Robotics researchers at North Carolina State University are working on “micro-aerial vehicles” (MAVs), small flying machines that may one day assist in such tasks as exploring collapsed buildings. While larger unmanned aerial vehicles follow the principles of airplanes and helicopters on a smaller scale, downsizing those human creations results in some problems.
“We are trying to mimic nature as closely as possible because it is very efficient.”
The researchers have turned to bats instead, developing robotic bats that offer “increased maneuverability and performance” over miniature planes and helicopters. “We are trying to mimic nature as closely as possible because it is very efficient,” Stefan Seelecke, one of the researchers, said. “At the MAV scale, nature tells us that flapping flight—like that of the bat—is the most effective.”
Basing their work on research into bats’ skeleton and muscles, the team completed a prototype “robo-bat” skeleton that weighs in at just six grams. Once the skeleton is fitted with super-elastic “shape-memory” joints, the wings will always return to a home position during each flapping cycle. Other alloys that respond to electric currents will help the bat stay lightweight and provide “simultaneous action and sensory input.” Seelecke adds that the robo-bat will “allow us to do tests where we can control all of the variables—and finally give us the opportunity to fully understand the aerodynamics of flapping flight.”
Airplanes and helicopters are incredible feats of human engineering, and they certainly have their place. But flying organisms are still the envy of human designers as they continue to learn about the adeptness of birds, bats, and other flying creatures. With every human “redesign” of such creatures—as in the case of the robo-bat—there is indirect recognition of the Designer’s handiwork (even if the engineers credit such design to the hand of evolution).
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