“Robat” Navigates Through Unique Environments Using Bat Echolocation

A Tel Aviv University researcher developed a robot that self-navigates by using bat-like sonar.

When it comes to robotics, researchers often take a cue from nature. While humans may be lacking some of the amazing skills that Earth’s creatures possess, they can still benefit from them.

From land to sea to sky, critters of all sizes have inspired innovation in robotics. Recent developments have included a bloodhound that can track scents on the ground, a robotic cockroach that can swim and walk under water, and RoboFly, a tiny tether less flying robot that could potentially help with time-consuming tasks.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University recently unveiled their take on borrowing from Mother Nature’s skill set. Although it can’t fly, Robat harnesses the echolocation abilities used by bats, an impressive skill that allows them to hunt for prey in the dark.

The fully autonomous, terrestrial Robat uses echolocation to navigate. (Image courtesy of Tel Aviv University/Itamar Eliakim.)

The fully autonomous, terrestrial Robat uses echolocation to navigate. (Image courtesy of Tel Aviv University/Itamar Eliakim.)

Similar to sonar, the high frequency system used by bats—they can hear sounds at around 110kHz compared to humans that can possibly hear up to 20kHZ—allows them to create a sonic map of their surroundings. They also can determine what an object is and its size to avoid it or capture it.

“Our Robat is the first fully autonomous, bat-like biorobot that moves through a novel environment while mapping it solely based on echo information,” said Itamar Eliakim, graduate student and Robat developer. “This information delineates the borders of objects and the free paths between them. We’ve been able to demonstrate the great potential of using sound in future robotic applications.”

Robat is a terrestrial self-controlled robot that harnesses the power of the unique system used by bats. It emits sound and analyzes its own echoes to map its surrounding location. In addition, it features an ultrasonic speaker that creates chirps in line with the frequency used by bats. Its “ears” are two ultrasonic microphones. As it moves, the robot determines the shapes and sizes of objects thanks to an artificial neural network. This allows it to create an accurate map that helps it avoid obstacles. If Robat comes to a dead end, its ability to classify obstacles allows it to determine if its path is blocked by something solid or whether it can pass through.

Click here to see Robat in action.

Interested in other robotic innovations? Check out Vector Wants to Be the Home Robot that Feels Alive and Living Muscles Integrated into Robotic Skeleton.