Micro Air Vehicles (MAV) are the official name for the growing array of tiny robots that have begun to take flight. Increasing miniaturization has led to an even smaller sub-group of drones called NAV (nano air vehicles) which have been commissioned to provide new solutions in the areas of search and rescue, hazardous exploration, military surveillance, climate mapping, and traffic monitoring – to name a few of the slated functions. Some of these NAV include mapleseed drones, sparrow drones, dragonfly drones and one called RoboBee. The reconstruction of nature is seen by researchers as the best way to introduce MAV and NAV on a wide scale.
The latest in this developing drone menagerie appears to represent the next stage of evolution, a sophisticated miniature drone modeled after a bat that developers are simply calling Bat Bot. As featured by Popular Mechanics:
Bat Bot is nothing short of an engineering marvel. It weighs in at only 3.3 ounces—about as heavy of two golf balls. With a silicone membrane stretched over its carbon-fiber skeleton, a head crammed with an on-board computer and sensors, and five micro-sized motors strung along its backbone, Bat Bot is capable of autonomous, flapping flight. Designed by trio of roboticists led by Soon-Jo Chung at Caltech, it was unveiled today in the journal Science Robotics.
The designers had to overcome the many technical challenges of replicating what they say is one of the most sophisticated flight structures in all of mammalian nature. They had to create their drone to somehow compete with the 40 joints possessed by a real bat as well as its unique wing attributes. In the end, they settled upon 9 key joint mechanisms and a membrane for the wings that provides the needed flexibility.
But the real clincher is that this particular drone is not even remote controlled; it has been infused with sensors and an onboard computer system that allows it to fly autonomously, while its inherent design gives it the benefit of flying in complete silence vs. the typical quadcopter drone, for example, which possesses spinning blades.
The following videos show off the life-like capabilities of Bat Bot in action:
Popular Science notes that Bat Bot could be essential for safety and stealth around humans. They provide the example of a construction site to offer a real-world example:
future incarnations of Bat Bot could fly about new building sites mid-construction, perching on beams to snap photos, or to spy mistakes or other structural flaws. If one bumps into a construction worker, no problem.
While this certainly could be a legitimate use, it is a much more disturbing scenario to envision how the military surveillance complex will wind up using this technology. In fact, they have given us a preview to this potential future in the Air Force video below. As drone expert, P.W. Singer stated, “The miniaturization of drones is where it really gets interesting. You can use these things anywhere, put them anyplace, and the target will never even know they’re being watched.”