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 and 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 that 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 that some bats emit, with each click lasting only a quarter of a millisecond.
The researchers hope that the study will enable them to use similar techniques in a variety of engineering applications.
Whiteley 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 the 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 programme of research known as Biologically Inspired Acoustic Systems (BIAS), which included the universities of Southampton and Leeds. The team believes that 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.