|2 February 2017|

USA

A bat-like drone capabale of flying “beyond where humans can go” could provide vital assistance in disaster zone situations.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Caltech have developed a self-contained robotic bat — dubbed Bat Bot (B2) — with soft, articulated wings that can mimic the key flight mechanisms of biological bats.

“Our work demonstrates one of the most advanced designs to date of a self-contained flapping-winged aerial robot with bat morphology that is able to perform autonomous flight,” explained Alireza Ramezani, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois. “It weighs only 93 grams, with dynamic wing articulations and wing conformations similar to those of biological bats.”

Ramezani collaborated with his advisors Soon-Jo Chung – an associate professor of aerospace at Caltech – and Seth Hutchinson at Illinois to develop the prototype. These authors have been collaborating with Brown University professors Kenneth Breuer and Sharon Swartz, who are experts on bat flight.

The B2 utilises a morphing skeleton array and a silicone-based membrane skin which allows the robot to alter its articulated structure in mid-air without losing an effective and smooth aerodynamic surface.

And there are a number of potential applications for the B2.

Soon-Jo Chung, talking about its potential use supervising on construction sites, said: “For example, for tasks that require the aerial robots to be stationary, our bat-inspired aerial robots will eventually be able to perch, instead of hovering, by taking advantage of unique structures in construction sites such as steel frames, side walls, and ceiling frames,” Chung said. “This is a more energy-efficient and reliable solution since stationary hovering is difficult for quadrotors in the presence of even mild wind — which is common for construction sites. Furthermore, perching or landing conventional aircraft and quadrotors in such unusual places is nearly impossible, due to their limited control authority at slow motor speeds and aerodynamic couplings such as wall or ground effects.

“In addition to construction applications, we envision robotic flapping-wing robots operating in tight quarters with humans and beyond where humans can go. For example, an aerial robot equipped with a radiation detector, 3D camera system, and temperature and humidity sensors could inspect something like the Fukushima nuclear reactors, where the radiation level is too high for humans, or fly into tight crawlspaces such as mines or collapsed buildings. Such highly maneuverable aerial robots, with longer flight endurance, will also make advances in the monitoring and recovery of critical infrastructures such as nuclear reactors, power grids, bridges, and borders.”