Bats are blind but can “see” with sonar, swooping, swerving, and flying without colliding with one another. So the researchers at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Coordinated Science Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology decided to build one.
The Bat Bot B2 is technically a drone — an unmanned aerial vehicle — but one that uses flapping wings instead of multiple spinning rotors. Weighing only three ounces, the Bat Bot travels with a careful flapping motion, the membrane of its thin silicon-based wings carrying it through the air like an actual bat.
Why bother? Because it is small and flexible, it could fly inside collapsed buildings, maneuvering around ruins to inspect the damage and search for trapped people. A second application would see bat bots act as aerial assistance for humans, for example, to look after elderly people living in multilevel homes — to bring them medicines or, equipped with cameras, to monitor them to be sure that they’re safe and haven’t fallen down or need some other kind of help.
As the video shows, the Bat Bot B2 flies pretty well, but the scientists still need to perfect its landing.