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Like A Bat Out Of Hell

When it comes to biomimetics, or the science of design that mimics nature, reptiles and birds tend to get all the best gigs. However, thanks to scientists at Sweden's Lund University, the brown long-eared bat might be about to get its moment in the sun.
By studying the movements of bats, trained to fly towards food sources in a wind tunnel filled with a haze of smoke, the research team, led by Lund department of biology senior lecturer Christoffer Johansson, has made observations that could change the way drones are designed. The researchers aimed a laser beam at the smoke behind the bats, took pictures of the illuminated smoke particles, and measured how the smoke moved to calculate the forces generated by each beat of the bats’ wings.

They found was that the large ears on the brown long-eared bats (Plecotus auritus) work in a very similar way to aeroplane wings, in that they create lift. This contradicted the received knowledge that that while they could assist with echo-location, the Dumbo-like aural appendages were more of a hindrance than a help when it came to flight.

The team also observed that the bats efficiently created thrust while flying slowly, by holding their wings high and away from their body at the end of each beat. This allowed them to create upstroke air wakes that were formed inside the wake of the downstrokes. "This specific way of generating power could lead to new aerodynamic control mechanisms for drones in the future, inspired by flying animals," says Johansson.

So, the brown long-eared bat: not just a pretty face after all…

Header and preview image: Wikimedia
Bat in hand image: Wikimedia