Importantly, as it only weights 93 grams (0.2 pounds) and doesn’t have any rapidly moving parts, this strange type of drone could interact with humans or delicate objects without damaging them in a way standard drones cannot. Even an accidental collision will be very unlikely to damage anything.
The researchers envisage a future where this type of robotic creature coexists with humans, monitoring them, assisting with search and rescue missions, or keeping an eye out for potential hazards. It could even flit around construction sites to monitor hard-to-reach parts of the architecture for damage.
They could also check out a space with a 3D camera and radiation sensor to go places humans cannot go – “the Fukushima disaster area, for example,” Hutchinson added.
The morphing ability of the silicone wings allows the Bat Bot to move with unprecedented precision. Ramezani et al./Science Robotics
Around Fukushima, “there’s so much debris, doors have collapsed – so the ability to maneuver through environments like that, and to do it quickly, is something that our robot can achieve, [both] more effectively and for a longer time than traditional helicopter-style robots.”
Perhaps one day, if linked up to other Bat Bots, they could move together as a swarm.
This is hardly the first time engineers have used the natural world as a source of inspiration for robotics, but it’s a wonderful example of how man-made wonders aren’t always the most ideal, perfect types of machinery. Natural selection is inarguably an efficient if ruthless mechanism for forging the best biological blueprints, so it’s only natural that we’d try to steal them from time to time.
R. aegyptiacus, one of the bats carefully studied as part of the Bat Bot construction process. Ramezani et al./Science Robotics