Watch this bat-inspired robot use sound to navigate and spot plants | Artificial intelligence


A four-wheeled robot that can echolocate

It doesn’t look like a bat, but it sees like one

Eliakim et al.

New robots can learn old tricks. Bats use to their surroundings in the dark and now a called Robat can do the same.

Robat is a four-wheeled autonomous robot, equipped with a speaker to mimic a bat’s mouth, and two microphones, positioned on the left and right, to mimic a bat’s ears.

As it moves around, Robat’s speakers produce a high-frequency chirp every half a metre. It can then identify the position of obstacles by calculating the delay between making this sound and the echo returning, and any differences between the two microphones. This is known as echolocation and bats use the same technique when flying in the dark.

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To put Robat to the test, Yossi Yovel at Tel Aviv University in Israel, and his colleagues placed it in one of two greenhouses in a botanical garden. Robat was then able to drive through the plant-lined paths avoiding obstacles, such as a bucket and a chair, while drawing a map of the surroundings. Bats are also likely able to identify specific objects using echolocation, so Yovel and his team gave Robat an algorithm to classify if something was a plant or not.

A robot like this could be useful where visibility is limited, such as when searching for survivors through rubble after a disaster or when moving in extreme weather.

Journal reference: PLOS Computational Biology, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006406

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