Inspired by nature, (and one has to assume, the shame of constantly being upstaged by Morgan Freeman’s character in The Dark Knight) scientists Alireza Ramezani, Soon-Jo Hung and Seth Hutchinson have teamed together to build a flying robot that looks and flies like a bat.  

Bats have one of the most complicated and intricate flying mechanisms in the animal kingdom, which allows them to swoop and dodge through extremely crowded caves where they are afforded very little room. Scientists wanted to replicate both their speed and extreme maneuverability, and so they started by studying the biomechanics of the animal itself.

They found that bats had 40 different joints in their wings, along with bones that would deform with individual wing flaps. Their first task when building their robot was to simplify the structure massively; no robot with that many actuated joints would be able to fly well. They decided to have four movable joints in the flight, and then developed an elastic silicon-based membrane skin to spread over the joints. Check out the video of it moving here. It’s incredibly interesting. 

While the bat is able to glide for long distances, and execute things like bank rolls and dives, it is unable to fly upwards or perch. These are things that the scientists working on this project will want to do going forward, potentially   

Engineers and physicists should look up the principles of flight, and how lift is generated in aeroplanes and how this is different to the lift generated by birds and insects. Biologists should look at how different animals fly, and how wingspan affects different birds and animals. Materials Science students can look at modern trends in creating alloys and composites that mimic animal structures and properties.

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