A team of undergraduates has been awarded the Robert W. Young Award for Undergraduate Research in Acoustics from the Acoustical Society of America.  Their project, “Dynamic Acoustic Soft Robot Inspired by Bats,” recreates the noseleaf and ear movements of bats to better understand the intricacies of how bats sense their environments with ultrasound.

Horseshoe bats, the biological model for this work, are one of several bat species groups capable of altering the shape of their noseleaves and outer ears, and are also well-known for their ability to navigate in dense vegetation using biosonar. The robot developed by the students would give researchers a better tool to explore a possible connection between those two traits. The team designed a new method of simulating the movements by recreating silicon ears and noses on a robotic body, and connected to biomimetic tendons which move them. This allows the synthetic ears and noses to be moved using smaller components and less mechanics than previous models, broadening the capacity of the robot to recreate those movements.

"Horseshoe bats have around 20 muscles on each ear. This new generation of soft-robots will bring us closer to understand how these many degrees of freedoms can be leveraged to create the sensory basis for autonomy in complex, natural environments," said team mentor and Profoessor Rolf Mueller.

The team of undergraduates competing for the award was led by Sanmeel V. Lagad and includes Etienne Bachour, Ruchi Bhandari, Patrick Braun, Richard Carter, Julian Castro, Matthew Chittre, David Chen, Enoch Cho, Varish Devarashetty, Shardul Dhongade, Thomas Giattino, Ian McCormick, Franco Medrano, and Brian Scurlock.  The project is sponsored by the Naval Engineering Education Center.