Bats — you know we love ‘em — have a remarkable ability to turn, swirl and dive on a dime while in mid-flight, dodging obstacles and grabbing food from the air. Engineers would like to give robots and autonomous vehicles this ability, and they’re turning to bat ears for inspiration.
Most bats use echolocation to find prey and to navigate, and biologists are learning that their handwings have a lot to do with their precise movements. But there is also growing evidence that bats can store and quickly compute sensory information, not unlike a bloodhound capturing scents in its wrinkled neck. Bat ears in particular are designed to capture sounds and vibrations in the air. The geometry of these features could be useful for autonomous flight systems, according to Rolf Mueller, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech.