Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) undoubtedly have the potential to revolutionize both military and civilian surveillance operations, and the quest to find the most efficient design for these airborne spies of the future is leading to all kinds of radical platforms being investigated. Several are derived from nature, where evolution has produced designs that out-strip the performance and efficiency of humanity's aerial achievements on a proportional scale. Even extinct examples like the pterodactyl are not immune from this scrutiny, but in this case, the inspiration comes from the only mammal naturally capable of flight - the bat.
The vision for the US Army funded research program involving the University of Michigan College of Engineering, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of New Mexico, is to create a six-inch long, quarter-pound robotic spy plane that could scavenge power from solar, wind and even vibration sources while monitoring the sights, sounds and smells of urban combat zones and sending data back to base in real time using radio signals.
University of Michigan researchers are working on the microelectronics aspects of the craft and the College of Engineering has used a five-year, $10-million grant to establishes the Center for Objective Microelectronics and Biomimetic Advanced Technology - delivering the convenient acronym COM-BAT. The grant includes an option to renew for an additional five years and $12.5 million in funding.
The complex electronic systems under development for "the bat" include tiny stereo cameras and mini microphones, sensors dedicated to picking-up threats like nuclear radiation or poisonous gases and low-power radar capabilities that could enable the device to navigate in the dark. A lithium ion battery with back up from solar and wind generation would supply the aircraft's targeted 1 W power requirement.
Photo Credits: Eric Maslowski, research computer specialist in the University of Michigan 3D Lab.