If I saw one of these flying overhead, I'd much sooner duck and call animal control than think I was being surveilled. But this is no living animal.
A team of engineering professors at the University of Illinois are working on a fully autonomous drone like you've never seen before. It looks and flies just like a living bat. No joke. Bats were the inspiration behind the architecture of these drones because of "their unrivaled agility and maneuverability during flight," the university says.
“When a bat flaps its wings, it’s like a rubber sheet,” professor Seth Hutchinson said on the school's website. “It fills up with air and deforms. And then when the wing gets to the end of its motion, that rubber wing pushes the air out when it springs back into place. So you get this big amplification of power that comes just from the fact you are using flexible membranes inside the wing itself.”
In other words, it's a drone that's equal parts powerful and power efficient. The professors say their bat drones should have longer battery power than traditional quadcopter drones "because of their ability flap and glide instead of relying on constantly rotating propellers."
Take a look at the drones in action. They're fascinating and, despite the upbeat music in the video, also a little frightening.
OK, so people are creating bat drones. Now what? The professors plan on using the bats to monitor progress on construction sites.
“Building construction projects are complicated, and rarely do they happen the way they are intended to happen,” Hutchinson said. “Keeping track of whether the building is being put together the right way at the right time is not trivial. So the bats would fly around, pay attention, and compare the building information model to the actual building that’s being constructed.”
The professors believe their robo-bats could also someday be used for delivering packages, should such regulations be passed.
Between drones that fly like bats and robots that run like cheetahs, well, what's next? If you don't believe me about the cheetah thing, see what I mean here. It's crazy stuff.