A five-year, $6 million university research project has been launched by the US Air Force to examine how bats fly, in a bid to develop more adaptable micro air vehicles (MAVs).
Researchers will learn more about how bats fly and use that information to enable better flight control systems. The USAF wants to develop MAVs that can navigate in cluttered environments such as urban areas or dense forests.
Engineers have studied the mechanics of bird flight and are using that to develop unmanned air vehicles with flapping and morphing wings. However, researchers say bats have more advanced high-speed agility than birds and their ability to fly in the dark makes them of particular interest.
"Bats have amazingly effective manoeuvrability," says Belinda Batten, head of Oregon State University's department of mechanical engineering and lead researcher on the OSU team, "Bats also use echo-location, or biological sonar, and they can fly at night. We want to learn more about how bats sense objects in their path and adjust their flight accordingly."
The project is a USAF Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative and brings together researchers from four universities.
At Brown University, the project lead, an aerodynamicist and a bat biologist will study the structural aspects of bat flight computational researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology will develop computer models a University of Maryland bat neurologist will analyse what bats' sensors measure and the OSU team will work on understanding bats' flight control system.