Bats are the inspiration for an initiative at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University to develop small flying robots. According to Virginia Tech professor Danesh Tafti, bats are unusual in that they are very flexible, have very accurate control, can move their fingers, and fine-tune their flapping.
The researchers envision the flying robots being used for search-and-rescue efforts, including a hunt for terrorists. "Think of it being able to go into small spaces," Tafti says. "They could fly alone or be let out in a swarm, communicating with each other and sharing information."
The scientists are in the early stages of their research, and must address challenges such as making tiny robots autonomous, enabling the bots to sense things around them, and determining the necessary processing power. A prototype could be ready in three to five years, and the first ones will be the size of a bat, Tafti notes. He estimates the initial robots will be about 8 to 12 inches long and weigh about 3.5 to 7 ounces.
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