Bats, Dolphins and Mole Rats Inspire New Ultrasound Technologies
Bats and their incredible ability for ecolocation have been inspiring sonar technologies for some time. Dolphins are well known for their echolocation abilities to communicate and find food. But did you know mole rats are equally as inspiring to researchers? In the field of ultrasound technology, researcher are looking to these three animals for biomimicry inspiration.
A press release states that Tel Aviv University researchers are studying the ability of these animals to use sound to navigate and putting the information into medical and military technology.
"Sonar and ultrasound, which use sound as a navigational device and to paint accurate pictures of an environment, are the basis of countless technologies, including medical ultrasound machines and submarine navigation systems. But when it comes to more accurate sonar and ultrasound, animals' "biosonar" capabilities still have the human race beat."
Luckily, we humans can build tools that mimic the abilities of these animals. Prof. Nathan Intrator of Tel Aviv University's Blavatnik School of Computer Science and Brown University's Prof. Jim Simmons are using a new method to learn how the animals interpret the returning signals as that appears to be the secret key. They're changing up the sound of the echo and studying how the animals react to find out how much of the signal they're getting and understanding. They want to eventually learn how to make a device that mimics the way the animals' brains work.
Biosonar animals send ultrasonic sounds called "pings" into the environment. The shape of the returning signals, or echoes, determines how these animals "see" their surroundings, helping them to navigate or hunt for prey. In a matter of tens of milliseconds, the neurons in the animal's brain are capable of a full-scale analysis of their surroundings represented in three dimensions, with little energy consumption. Even with the aid of a supercomputer, which consumes thousands of times more energy, humans cannot produce such an accurate picture, Prof. Intrator says. With echolocation, a bat can tell the difference between a fly in motion or at rest, or determine which of two fruits is heavier by observing their movements in the wind.
Eventually, the technology could be useful for prenatal care or even cancer detection.