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Bat Bot
Bat Bot begins. (Ramezani et al. / Caltech / UIUC via Science Robotics)

Holy drone, Batman! Scientists have created a robotic drone with soft, flapping wings that looks and flies like a ghostly bat.

The Bat Bot project, conducted by researchers at Caltech and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, may sound like a Halloween prank gone wild. But there’s a serious point behind the spookiness.

“This robot design will help us build safer and more efficient flying robots, and also give us more insight into the way bats fly,” Soon-Jo Chung, an aerospace professor at Caltech as well as a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a news release.

A research paper describing the project was published online today by the journal Science Robotics.

Bat Bot weighs just a little more than three ounces (93 grams) and has a foot-long wingspan. The robo-flier’s structure is totally batlike, with shoulders, elbows, wrists and legs. A 56-micron-thick, semitransparent sheet of silicone is stretched over the skeletal wings.

Chung and his colleagues say biomimetic fliers like Bat Bot have the potential to be much more energy-efficient than conventional drones, because the flexible wings amplify the motion of the robot’s actuators.

They also say Bat Bot could be just the ticket for applications that require flying machines to come in close contact with people. The drone is so soft and lightweight that if it did run into somebody, it wouldn’t do much damage. Except for the nightmares.

For still more biomimetic robots with the capacity to horrify, check out MIT’s fish-catching soft-bot, the University of Washington’s creepy robotic hand, and this free-wheeling “Handle” robot from Boston Dynamics:

In addition to Chung, the authors of the Science Robotics paper, “A Biomimetic Robotic Platform to Study Flight Specializations of Bats,” include Alireza Ramezani and Seth Hutchinson.


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