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The Military Technology

Bats Inspiring Future Micro Unmanned Aircraft 76

Posted by kdawson
from the same-bat-station dept.
coondoggie writes "It's not the first time researchers have tried to emulate flapping as a way to fly aircraft, but US Air Force-funded researchers are now looking at how bats move to help them develop future micro-aircraft. According to these researchers, birds, bats, and insects have some highly varied mechanical properties that researchers have so far not utilized in engineering flight vehicles. The idea is to reproduce bat mechanics and develop technology could lead to small, remote controlled aircraft able to move in places where fixed-wing aircraft have a hard time — like the interiors of buildings, caves, or tunnels."
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Bats Inspiring Future Micro Unmanned Aircraft

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  • Didn't the military look into cluster bombs using bats? Doesn't seem to be terribly new as far as inspiring flight sorts of ideas.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Typical Slashbot response. "Bah, this is so easy. In fact, it's so easy that I could do it myself if I wanted to. I just don't want to."

    • Yes, in fact Batman did it ages ago with his cape!!!

    • Re:Not a new model (Score:5, Interesting)

      by IonOtter (629215) on Monday January 12, 2009 @09:41PM (#26426285) Homepage

      Actually, the "Bat Bomb" was a striking success.

      The "bomb" was essentially a large casing, filled with a stack of "honeycombs". Inside each cell of the honeycomb was a Mexican Freetailed Bat carrying an incendiary device.

      The bats were chilled to induce torpor, then fitted with the device. While still chilled, they were loaded into the honeycombs and the devices were armed by pulling the string through the top of each cell. The combs were then strung together and loaded into a casing.

      The casing would be dropped over a city, and once it reached 4000 feet, a chute would deploy and the case would fall off. The honeycombs would then fall like an accordion, stretching out. Each bat would then be shaken out of their cells and onto the top of the bottom cell. The device is now armed.

      This was actually deliberate, as it gave the bats time to warm up, get their bearings and fly off for shelter.

      The intent was that the bats would fly toward homes and buildings, seeking shelter from the daylight. After 20 minutes, the incendiary device would ignite. And since most Japanese homes of the time were made from washi paper, wood and bamboo, the resulting fires would be catastrophic.

      The concept worked perfectly, as the Army found out quite by accident. Here's a video. Advance to 6:25 for the "successful test" [poetv.com]

      Unfortunately for a few million Japanese, but fortunately for the bats, the program was canceled in lieu of the A-Bomb.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by stockard (1431131)
      Yeah, they looked at that in WWII [wikipedia.org] . Apparently it worked a little too well, burning down some buildings at the nearby Army base in addition to the test buildings they set up when some bats decided to roost there instead.
    • Re:Not a new model (Score:5, Insightful)

      by radtea (464814) on Monday January 12, 2009 @09:55PM (#26426433)

      Engineers have always looked to nature for design inspiration. It is an approach that has some famous failures, including a lot of early flight research that was erroneously based on bird's wings that pointed people in directions that were simply wrong for the technology of the day. It has also had some notable successes, most recently with those "sharkskin" swimsuits.

      But the thing that is certain is that every time the routine use of natural inspiration is pointed out to anyone who is completely ignorant of all good engineering practise for the past few centuries, they will boldly announce that it is "new" and "surprising" that engineers would do any such a thing. Unfortunately this leads to journalism that misses everything interesting.

      The research linked in the story may be interesting because of some of the details of the work, but the simple fact that they are using nature as an inspiration for engineering design, which is what the story focuses on, is neither new nor interesting.

      • Re:Not a new model (Score:4, Interesting)

        by megaduck (250895) <dvarvel@ h o t m a i l .com> on Tuesday January 13, 2009 @02:39AM (#26428823) Journal

        I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree. I think that we don't do enough biomimetic design, especially for production systems. Look around you. What was built using biological principles? The answer's probably "not much".

        The problem seems to be engineers' blindness to "solved problems". Once somebody comes up with a workable solution, everybody just iterates upon it rather than stopping and rethinking the problem entirely. Take the "bat-craft" example. UAV design has consistently been a process of taking classic aircraft design, and then shrinking it. The problems are well understood, but you're never going to get any revolutionary features.

        A couple of years ago, I was part of a competition for AUV design (autonomous submarines). Every single entry, except for ours, used the same principles that we've been using on submarines for forever. Pressure hull, with tandem thrusters for turning and propulsion. We tried to go with a more "natural" design, copying fish (flooded hull, the whole body was a control surface).

        Talking to the big defense contractors that build these things for the military, all of their designs lacked any biomimetic features. Current AUV design consists of taking classic submarine designs, making them smaller, and whacking out the crew compartment. A lot of them are pretty cool, but they're certainly not borrowing anything from nature.

        The same situation exists with UAV design. Look at the designs for the Int'l Aerial Robotics Competition [angel-strike.com]. These are the engineering students that get recruited to design and build "the real thing" for Northrup Grumman and General Atomics. Smart guys, but they're (generally) not looking to nature.

      • It's particularly stupid because anyone who has spent more than a moment observing birds knows that they spend about 80% of their active time foraging for food. We have no idea how to make power systems which even approach several orders of magnitude below the efficiency/weight/size of a bird's digestive system. So the idea that you can build a UAV the size of a sparrow (or, by the same argument, the size of a fly) is necessarily a non-starter unless you want one which will spend all its time looking for

  • but doesn't the object need to be very very light in order for it to work? I mean birds have hollow bones and thats how they are very light, they would need a very small very light camera or whatever they plan on using on this "flapping object" or it wont fly. Or have they made things that im not aware of that are light like this?
    • by peragrin (659227)

      we can currently build an RC helicopter than can fly lout of your hand fly around and land on your hand.(depending on the skill of the pilot)

      The smallest object I have seen fly with propeller for forward speed and radio controls for direction came in at a whopping 10 sheets of paper in weight.

    • Anyone who's been in a cave where bats live won't go anywhere near the airport.
    • by azenpunk (1080949)

      styrofoam?

      i've seen remote control airplanes smaller than 6 inches square made of styrofoam. that have cameras on them. the range sucks though. in fact the footage i've seen might have been the early stages of culminated in what this article is about. couldn't swear to it.

  • Not to knock bats... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Progman3K (515744) on Monday January 12, 2009 @08:26PM (#26425417)

    But bats have always appeared to me to be very ungraceful in their flight.
    Not that there's anything wrong with that, but their motion has always seem sort of chaotic.
    I suppose that's also what makes them so nimble.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But bats have always appeared to me to be very ungraceful in their flight.
      Not that there's anything wrong with that, but their motion has always seem sort of chaotic.
      I suppose that's also what makes them so nimble.

      is that a quasi-haiku?

    • by jrumney (197329) on Monday January 12, 2009 @08:40PM (#26425553) Homepage
      I think the lack of grace comes from their body weight compared to birds, which perhaps makes them more appropriate for copying when you want to load a microcraft down with cameras and transmitters etc. They seem to use their wings downward flap to pull their body up, then immediately start falling, unlike birds which are able to glide for some distance without significant loss of altitude.
      • by Cousin Scuzzy (754180) on Monday January 12, 2009 @09:20PM (#26426025)
        They may appear less graceful, but bats have greater control over their flight then birds. From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

        Because their wings are much thinner than those of birds, bats can maneuver more quickly and more precisely than birds.

        Gliding is certainly graceful and efficient, but it's somewhat at odds with being able to stop, hover, and change course quickly. For maneuvering indoors or in caves or tunnels, gliding would be a lower priority than not crashing into things.

        • by Progman3K (515744)

          Evolution at work.

          The bats who were better at gliding but not at making quick course changes bumped into things in the cave and wound up on the floor of the cave.

          I saw a documentary about that once, the floor of a bat cave is covered with a multitude of incredible carnivorous(/omnivorous?) insects that would immediately swarm a bat and strip it to the bone and then to nothing in the space of a few minutes.

          There's actually a war-zone on the wall where the insects climbing up the wall and the bats with the wo

    • Its true, birds appear more graceful in flight. That is until they fly face-first into a glass window, something bats don't have a problem with.
  • anti-UAV tech (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday January 12, 2009 @08:28PM (#26425445)

    The next advancement in military tech will probably be anti-UAV technology. Since they're so lightweight and small, there's no real chance for them to survive electromagnetic weapons (hardening costs weight). I suspect miniturization and economizing of EMP delivery systems will become a priority for many militaries in the next decade. Counter-surveillance will also become a priority for many groups, both domestically and abroad.

    The technology is already being abused to spy on large public gatherings where there is no evidence of illegal activity. Eventually, people are going to start fighting back, and the government can piss off on that because one shotgun blast (cost: $1) will blow a several thousand dollar UAV out of the sky without too much trouble. A baseball bat and a can of gasoline later, and it's a total loss. Unlike most counter-technology, I'm betting anti-UAV tech will spring from civilian interests.

    It'll be like those HARM systems... That got defeated by people who'd stick a fork into a microwave's door interlock and then turn it on and point it up. $280,000 missile blows up $15 microwave. Very economical!

    • Re:anti-UAV tech (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Fëanáro (130986) on Monday January 12, 2009 @08:52PM (#26425677)

      The technology is already being abused to spy on large public gatherings where there is no evidence of illegal activity.

      so you propose the government is risking its newest, most expensive and top secret spy technology to spy on public gatherings?

      Of course they could just send some guys with a camcorder without raising any suspicion whatsoever, since every other attender at any gathering will be taking photos anyway. or they could simply get the photos from flicker later.

      Any evidence for this claim?

      • > Any evidence for this claim?

        Of course not. It's all been suppressed by THEM.

      • http://lemonodor.com/archives/001405.html [lemonodor.com] It does say that the FAA does not approve. The autonomous nature of the aircraft is the big sticking point it seems. As for actual use of UAVs in domestic operations, I don't know of any, but law enforcement seems very interested.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tlhIngan (30335)

          http://lemonodor.com/archives/001405.html It does say that the FAA does not approve. The autonomous nature of the aircraft is the big sticking point it seems. As for actual use of UAVs in domestic operations, I don't know of any, but law enforcement seems very interested.

          It's a good thing the FAA doesn't approve - certain areas of airspace are controlled (airport tower or otherwise), with good reason - aircraft. UAVs have to be designed to be controlled - so they'll need avionics to pick up the local tower,

      • Re:anti-UAV tech (Score:4, Interesting)

        by lawpoop (604919) on Monday January 12, 2009 @10:19PM (#26426677) Homepage Journal

        so you propose the government is risking its newest, most expensive and top secret spy technology to spy on public gatherings?

        No, just the last-gen stuff that's mass produced and ready to go into the field. The newest, cutting-edge stuff is 10 to 20 years from the light of day.

        Of course they could just send some guys with a camcorder without raising any suspicion whatsoever, since every other attender at any gathering will be taking photos anyway. or they could simply get the photos from flicker later.

        Or they may want to see how their new high-tech works in a real-life, low-stakes situation.

        Any evidence for this claim?

        Washington Post: Robotic Insects Spy on Protestors? [dailykos.com]

    • by peragrin (659227)

      portable EMP systems are a ways off. while with luck portable power cells(ultra capacitors, and large portable generators) are almost here, there is yet to be a way to actually generate an EMP effectively over more than a few feet without a nuke.

      • by azenpunk (1080949)

        dude, what are you talking about? they had one in oceans 11!

        • by peragrin (659227)

          um it doesn't exist. just because it is on TV doesn't make it real. try coming out of your parents basement every once in a while.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by LifesABeach (234436)

      I couldn't but think of the scene in the 5Th Element [wikipedia.org] were the bugged cock roach craws onto the table.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by John Hasler (414242)

      > It'll be like those HARM systems... That got defeated by people who'd stick a fork into
      > a microwave's door interlock and then turn it on and point it up. $280,000 missile blows
      > up $15 microwave. Very economical!

      You go right ahead and rely on that to work. After all, people capable of designing effective anti-radiation missiles are obviously not capable of designing receivers that can classify different radiation sources.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      [quote]The technology is already being abused to spy on large public gatherings where there is no evidence of illegal activity. Eventually, people are going to start fighting back, and the government can piss off on that because one shotgun blast (cost: $1) will blow a several thousand dollar UAV out of the sky without too much trouble.[/quote]

      The little, low-level UAVs that is. Larger UAVs can loiter out of range of small arms.The obvious countermeasure would be to watch expendable UAV with expensive UAV,

    • It'll be like those HARM systems... That got defeated by people who'd stick a fork into a microwave's door interlock and then turn it on and point it up. $280,000 missile blows up $15 microwave. Very economical!

      HARM systems do not work that way. You are making assumptions about the design of those weapons that betrays a gross ignorance of the capabilities of the technology.

      As a rule of thumb, it should seem reasonable that state-of-the-art classified weapon systems work neither according to how Hollywood

    • by CompMD (522020)

      "Since they're so lightweight and small, there's no real chance for them to survive electromagnetic weapons (hardening costs weight)."

      Since they're so lightweight and small, *you never see them coming.* Most are made from composite materials, powered by electric motors. Even at a few hundred feet away, you'd never see or hear most small recon UAVs. If you don't know its there, your countermeasure weapons are irrelevant. My personal favorites are the AV Raven (fits in a backpack, simple assembly, then th

  • "One toke? You poor fool! Wait till you see those goddamn bats."
  • lead to small, remote controlled aircraft able to move in places where fixed-wing aircraft have a hard time â" like the interiors of buildings, caves, or tunnels.

    ... and HVAC ductwork, ceiling lamps, cabinet tops, any place people don't regularly look.

  • by hobbit (5915)

    Wake me when you've got a robot that can walk decently, let alone fly like a bat.

    • You don't think Big Dog [wikipedia.org] walks decently?
      • by hobbit (5915)

        That is really quite impressive. But I have a real dog, and you should see it bound over rubble ;)

    • by Zeussy (868062)
      The lastest Asimo walks pretty decently, in the words of James May "a bit like a guy who has had a accident in his pants, but at least he walks like somebody".
  • I would think that if they are trying to make something that's supposed to fly around through rooms, they would look at the hummingbird. I've never seen a bat hover, and I don't think I've ever seen a bat fly in a straight line. I have however seen hummingbirds hover, fly in straight lines, and move pretty fast.

    I'm already on the phone with my lawyer to start the patent process.

    • by dwye (1127395)

      > I've never seen a bat hover, and I don't think I've ever seen a bat fly in a straight line.

      Because moths do not fly in a straight line, especially when chased by hungry bats. OTOH, how much deftness does it take to sneak up on a flower, especially given that it NEEDS the hummingbird to fertilize the flowers?

      Take a look at bat wing design. Pterosaurs and birds each use(d) just one finger for the wing, and let the others atrophy, while bats seem to use several of theirs in the wing, making it much more

  • My lifelong-quest to become Batman is one step closer! :)

  • Rodenthopter.

    -Peter

  • Didnt WowWee already "solve" this with the FlyTech line they already have a bat that files!
  • I guess it's great we're copying them but perhaps we should be doing something to also keep them from dying off from fungal/bacterial infections?

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted.slashdot@org> on Monday January 12, 2009 @10:00PM (#26426479)

    It's not the first time researchers have tried to emulate fapping as a way to fly aircraft,

    Or is it just... Oh... it is just me...?

    Damn. I need a girlfriend!

  • Dumb idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by criminy (62218)

    It's been shown on a number of occasions that creating airborne surveillance devices which look like animals simply invites predators to catch and destroy them.

    http://gizmodo.com/359417/hawks-agree-wowwees-dragonfly-tastes-delicious [gizmodo.com]

  • Hmmmmm..... (Score:4, Funny)

    by IHC Navistar (967161) on Monday January 12, 2009 @10:54PM (#26427039)

    The robotic bat-based UAV sounds like a load of eGuano to me.....

    Multi-million dollar project that can be defeated by a $100 shotgun and a $.50 shell. Real clever.....

    • The robotic bat-based UAV sounds like a load of eGuano to me.....

      Multi-million dollar project that can be defeated by a $100 shotgun and a $.50 shell. Real clever.....

      You're assuming that it would be used as a weapon (delivering explosives or some other payload.) As a surveillance/spy device it would be very useful indeed.

      • "You're assuming that it would be used as a weapon (delivering explosives or some other payload.) As a surveillance/spy device it would be very useful indeed."

        -----No, I'm assuming that it would be used at all. Whether or not it is being used as a weapons system or surveillance/recon system, it can *still* be brought down by wayyy cheaper methods, from a shotgun to an electromagnetic pulse, that can easily be either requisitioned or built.

        Its usefulness is heavily negated by its monumental vulnerabilities.

  • Gould pointed out in one of his essays that whereas horses are a very unsuccessful line of animals (compared to what most people think) because they have few habitats and only really one small genus, bats (which most people are not very aware of) are very diverse and successful. They're doing something right.

    Referencing the post above who suggested that artificial bats could easily be disposed of by a shotgun, have you ever tried to aim at a bat? They are difficult enough to follow with low power binoculars

  • So the BatMobile is finally becoming reality!

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