Feeds

'Metal muscle' memory-alloy robot flapper bat shown off

Can droid chiropterthopter get off the ground?

The Power of One Infographic

Boffins in North Carolina have announced that they are hard at work on a robotic bat which will have a skeleton made of "shape-memory alloy" and flap its wings using electrically powered "metal muscles". The palm-sized robothopter is intended for use as a military surveillance platform, or Micro Air Vehicle (MAV).

The NCSU robobat. Credit: Gheorghe Bunget

What all the the flap's about.

"The key concept here is the use of smart materials," says Dr Stefan Seelecke of North Carolina State Uni, one of the top men in the field of robotic bats.

"We are using a shape-memory metal alloy that is super-elastic for the joints. The material provides a full range of motion, but will always return to its original position – a function performed by many tiny bones, cartilage and tendons in real bats."

Apart from the memory alloy skeleton, the droid nightflyer features smart metal muscles.

"We're using an alloy that responds to the heat from an electric current. That heat actuates micro-scale wires the size of a human hair, making them contract like 'metal muscles'," explains Seelecke. He adds that the advantage of this approach is that it provides feedback automatically.

"During the contraction, the powerful muscle wires also change their electric resistance, which can be easily measured, thus providing simultaneous action and sensory input," adds the robobatty boffin. "This dual functionality will help cut down on the robo-bat's weight, and allow the robot to respond quickly to changing conditions – such as a gust of wind – as perfectly as a real bat."

The NCSU scientists argue that at the small MAV scale, flapping-wing ornithopter flight is potentially more efficient and manoeuvrable than traditional approaches such as helicopters or ducted fans. This line of thought is also under investigation by DARPA, the renowned US military mad-professor bureau which - were it a church tower - would surely offer a belfry hospitable to NCSU's memealloy metallo-muscle chiropter-thopteroids.

Other boffins have already robustly pooh-poohed such batty notions. Details on the NCSU project - including notice of an upcoming conference outing in California for the robo flapbat team - can be seen here. ®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.