Researchers Decode Bat Sonar to Improve Everything from Buildings to Robots

bat in flight photo

Photo via lemuelinchrist via Flickr CC

Bats have an incredible ability to navigate using echolocation, weaving their way around obstacles and finding prey based on the bouncing around of the sounds they emit. Engineers and biologists from the Universities of Strathclyde and Leeds in Britain have decided it's well worth looking in to just how they do it so that the technique can be employed by humans for everything from robotic vehicles to testing structures for flaws. Life Sciences reports that the team of researchers worked with six Egyptian fruit bats, recording the calls the bats make by clicking their tongues and recreating them.

Recording devices were strapped to the bats to pick up the sound while the bats performed sixteen flights each along a corridor. The calls were recreated in a lab with an ultrasonic loudspeaker. As the researchers figure out how bats utilize the sounds to detect things in their environment, they'll apply the techniques to human engineering systems.

Lead author Simon Whiteley from the Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering at the University of Strathclyde, said, "We aim to understand the echolocation process that bats have evolved over millennia, and employ similar signals and techniques in engineering systems. We are currently looking to apply these methods to positioning of robotic vehicles, which are used for structural testing. This will provide enhanced information on the robots' locations, and hence the location of any structural flaws they may detect."

Biomimicry is providing answers for all sorts of technical advancements, from aerodynamic cars that mimic the skin of sharks to water and electricity distribution networks modeled after the veins of leaves. There is no end to how nature shows us how to do things better.

The research was published this week in IOP Publishing's Bioinspiration & Biomimetics
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