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Designing better sensors from bat ears

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Bat ears could inspire the next generation of sensors that will go into robots and autonomous vehicles.

Rolf Mueller travels the world collecting bats. Mueller does this for his job, as a researcher at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

In the picture to the right, he's standing at a cave in the mountains in China. He went there to look for bats that would advance his sensor technology research.

Bats have horrible eyesight, so they had to adapt excellent navigational skills. Human-made sensor systems can't perform as well, and often fail when exposed to the same environment.

Current sensor technology fails when there's too much information available, Muller explained.

Mueller said to Virginia Tech Research Magazine:

The split-second decisions that bats on the wing have to make will often be based only on a very small number of echoes. Based on these few input signals, the bat’s brain is able to make the quick and reliable decisions that swift flight in confined spaces requires.

As Popular Science points out, autonomous systems have lasers, sonar and video cameras that can make an aircraft location-aware. But it can also suffer from information overload. This would never happen with a bat.

Bat ears are structured, in such a way, that the ultrasonic waves that the bat gives off, comes back and bounces off of it. This happens so quickly, it can use this information to make snap decisions.

Bat evolved to have these sophisticated biosonar systems for a reason, so we might as well model sensing systems after them.

According to Virginia Tech magazine:

All results to date imply that bats emit their biosonar pulses in a single ultrasonic beam. The effect is that the sonar beamwidth produces changes from narrow to wide depending upon the bats’ physical structure...

In man-made sonar and radar systems, sidelobes are commonly regarded as nuisances that need to be suppressed. In bats, they seem to be prominent features that are enhanced by the shapes of the ears.

Bat Ears Could Inspire New sensing Technology For Robots and Autonomous Vehicles [Popular Science]

via Virginia Tech Research Magazine

Photo: Jin-Ping Han and Rolf Mueller

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Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech, Technewsdaily.com, Techstartups.com and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure