Robobat

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The skeleton of the robotic bat uses shape-memory metal alloy that is super-elastic for the joints, and smart materials that respond to electric current for the muscular system.

The skeleton of the robotic bat uses shape-memory metal alloy that is super-elastic for the joints, and smart materials that respond to electric current for the muscular system. Credit: Gheorghe Bunget, North Carolina State University

For aerial navigation in cramped spaces it’s bat MAV to the rescue. Big bucks have been pumped into micro-aerial vehicle (MAV) research due to interest from the surveillance industry. Traditional fixed-wing and propeller driven flight doesn’t scale down well for tight, close quarters maneuvering. Flappy flight on the other hand has gotten bats out of caves without going splat for eons. Aerial technology has had to evolve a long way, but now engineers are hoping to do more than just parrot the bat. The smart materials that compose “Robobat” were shaped and assembled to model real bats’ skeletal structure and flight dynamics, but with high tech twists. For example, microwires in Robobat contract in response to heat from electrical currents to help move its wings. The contraction simultaneously changes the wires’ conductance, which is quickly registered by onboard computers that incorporate the information into flight adjustments. The developers hope elegant multi-tasking materials like the microwires will make Robobat smart and responsive enough for the next wave of their research to take flight.