3d-Printed Robotic Bat Wing Holds New Possibilities for Small Aircraft

bat wing photo
©. Breuer and Swartz labs/Brown University

© Breuer and Swartz labs/Brown University

Brown University researchers are taking a closer look at the anatomy of bat wings and how they can be used to inspire new possibilities for small aircraft. Yep, just like bats inspired the sketches of da Vinci's flying machines they have also inspired the researchers who are delving into the flight secrets of bats. And they've begun with a robot imitation.

Their robotic bat wing -- an eight-inch mimic has plastic bones created with a 3D printer, "skin" made of silicone elastomer, and joints moved by servo motors and cables acting as tendons -- is providing information about the dynamics of flapping flight found in live bats, without putting live bats through the rigors of testing, which would be impossible anyway since they can't fly with a bunch of measuring tools hooked up to them. But the robotic model can do exactly what the researchers ask of it, when they ask, in order to provide this valuable data.

"The robot, which mimics the wing shape and motion of the lesser dog-faced fruit bat, is designed to flap while attached to a force transducer in a wind tunnel. As the lifelike wing flaps, the force transducer records the aerodynamic forces generated by the moving wing. By measuring the power output of the three servo motors that control the robot’s seven movable joints, researchers can evaluate the energy required to execute wing movements," reports Brown University.

The researchers have published their work thus far in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. They have looked at aspects such as the aerodynamic effects of wing folding during the upstroke, and how that decreases negative lift and improves flight efficiency. Their findings could inspire new designs for small flapping aircraft of the future.

Check out the robot in action and learn more in this video: