Robotic Spying Bats: Coming Soon!

i-884eb5fc5ab25b1446721361549e13dd-shelley icon.JPG Bats are sneaky, silent, and why shouldn't they be spies? Engineers at the University of Michigan are currently developing a six-inch, robotic spying device modeled after a bat that could gather data via an embedded camera and send back data in real time.

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Forget Ceiling Cat! Sneaky bat-robots are watching you!

Obviously, the military is funding it, and has awarded UM a 5 year, $10 million grant to design and implement the flying-n-spying robot:

They will develop sensors, communication tools and batteries for this micro-aerial vehicle that's been dubbed "the bat." Engineers envision tiny cameras for stereo vision, an array of mini microphones that could home in on sounds from different directions, and small detectors for nuclear radiation and poisonous gases.

Low-power miniaturized radar and a very sensitive navigation system would help the bat find its way at night. Energy scavenging from solar, wind, vibration and other sources would recharge the bat's lithium battery. The aircraft would use radio to send signals back to troops.

I think that this would be an amazing feat of engineering if "the bat" was successfully developed, and would have much wider-reaching applications than strictly military. Wanna photograph the inside of that volcano or observe a pod of whales out at sea? Survey a particularly difficult-to-reach locale or check that your spouse isn't cheating on you? Just let "the bat" do it!

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Close-up of the bat's sensory apparatus

The bat would be able to record in-flight, or just perch at a street corner for awhile and take surveillance. Its navigation will be designed to be autonomous, so the bat would devise its own movements under the general direction of a human controller. Of course, the protect is termed COM-BAT. Heh. Read more about the general initiative here.


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The IEEE Spectrum magazine had a similar feature this month on robotic flies. In another life I would have loved to work on this stuff, but there's a dirty, dark secret to all this big sky development.

Power! Given current technology with weight and batteries these things will only last 15 minutes. One interesting recent idea though is that in urban areas, this robots would land on power lines to harvest energy.

Hi Shelly,

The diversity of Bio-mathematics [engineering, dynamics and game theory] through robotics may be about to overtake the importance of mathematical physics?

Cameras have already been used with raptors and other animals. "Raptor Force" on PBS Nature: : ... engineer and falconer Rob MacIntyre's ingenious miniature television station -- a camera, transmitter, and battery small enough to be harnessed onto the backs of raptors -- you'll see for yourself what it's like to fly with these deadly aces".

I am not aware of any parrots thus equipped.

A cowardly, superstitious lot.