RoboBat: Robotic Bat Wing Reveals Secrets of Flight

Cutting-edge modern technology enables us to get closer to the world of wildlife than ever, helping us understand their biology, their habits and how we can ensure their continuation. Robotic technology is one area in which researchers are making incredible strides, and their findings could help us build more efficient and intuitive machinery of all sorts. Brown University recently uncovered flight secrets of real bats by building a robotic bat wing.

Attempting to build a bat wing from artificial materials gave the researchers an inside look at the function of ligaments, skin elasticity, the structural support of musculature, the flexibility of the skeleton and the way the wings move up and down. Modeled after the lesser dog-faced fruit bat, the wing is designed to flap while attached to a force transducer in a wind tunnel, which records the aerodynamic forces generated by the moving wing.

Since live bats can’t fly when connected to instruments that record aerodynamic forces, the researchers knew they’d have to create a model. Whil the robot doesn’t quite match the complexity of a real bat’s wing, which has 25 joints and 34 degrees of freedom, it mimics five fundamental parameters of bat flight: flapping frequency, amplitude, the angle of the flap relative to the ground, the amount of time used for the downstroke, and the extent to which the wings can fold back.

So what’s the purpose of creating this robo-wing? In creating and testing the wing, Brown University researchers discovered that folding the wing on the upstroke is what allows bats to soar high. Not only does that give insight into a fascinating creature, it could also aid the design of small flapping aircraft.