Research On Bats’ Ability to ‘See’ in the Dark Has Implications for Robotics
Biologically Inspired Acoustic Systems (BIAS) researchers beliee echolocation techniques could have a wide range of potential applications, including robotics.
By Robotics Trends Staff - Filed May 14, 2010

Detailed studies into the way bats use sound to ‘see’ in the dark could soon be used to create robots that can find their way around hazardous environments.

Simon Whiteley of Strathclyde’s Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering worked with colleagues at Leeds University to investigate the techniques bats use to detect insect prey and predators.

The team used a wireless microphone sensor mounted on a tiny backpack to help listen to the sounds adult Egyptian fruit bats make while flying. The bats ‘see’ by rapidly clicking their tongues, and then using the echoes to decipher the shape of their surroundings in great detail - a process known as echolocation.

The recordings revealed the complexity of the sounds some bats emit, with each ‘click’ lasting only a quarter of a millisecond.

The team hopes the study will enable them to use similar techniques in a variety of engineering applications. Mr Whiteley, the study’s lead author, said: “We aim to understand the echolocation process that bats have evolved over millennia, and employ similar signals and techniques in engineering systems. We are currently looking to apply these methods to positioning of robotic vehicles, which are used for structural testing. This will provide enhanced information on the robots’ locations, and hence the location of any structural flaws they may detect.”

The research was conducted as part of a larger program of research known as BIAS (Biologically Inspired Acoustic Systems) that included the Universities of Southampton and Leeds. The team believes the techniques could have a wide range of potential applications, including improving the location-finding abilities of people with hearing aids or cochlear implants, or even making medical ultrasound systems more sensitive and able to pick out different tissue types under the skin.

The research was published this week in the Institute of Physics Publishing’s Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, which is available at

Robotics Trends would like to thank University of Strathclyde for permission to reprint this article.  The original can be found at

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