Researchers at the University of Tel Aviv say that they have developed the world's first fully autonomous bat-like robot to use echolocation to navigate new environments.
The "Robat" uses a biological bat-like acoustic approach to navigate, broadcast sounds, and extract information from the recurring echoes to map the new environment, allowing it to overcome obstacles and avoid dead-end roads.
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Researchers equipped the robot with an ultrasonic loudspeaker that served as its mouth and produced chirps at a frequency and speed typically used by bats, and two ultrasonic microphones that serve as the robot's ears.
"Robat" differs from earlier studies because it moves autonomously through its test environments, while other bat-like robots are controlled by users. The robot also maps the structure of the surrounding environment instead of mapping its own position in relation to the environment.
The classification power of the robot also allows the robot to evaluate whether it can circumvent an obstacle, such as a plant instead of a wall. A similar classification process is crucial for a real bat to help both navigation and foraging for food.
Built and developed by the graduate Itamar Eliakim and advised by Prof. Yossi Yovel and Dr. Gabor Kosa, the findings of the team were published in the biology journal PLOS Computational Biology on Thursday.
"Our Robat is the first completely autonomous, bat-like biorobot that moves through a new environment and maps it exclusively on the basis of ultrasound information," said Eliakim, who successfully tested the robot in two outdoor environments in Tel Aviv's botanical garden. University.
"This information outlines the boundaries of objects and the free paths in between. We have been able to demonstrate the great potential of using sound in future robot applications."
The robot could, according to developers, have great potential for future robotic applications because of the increasing use of autonomous robots, which require new sensory approaches to plan routes and avoid objects in unknown environments.
"Today, robots mainly navigate using machine vision, using cameras & lasers." We have proven that it is also possible to do interesting things with sonar, "explains Prof. Yovel.
"Vision is an excellent feeling, but it has its flaws, for example when a robot navigates in the dark, dust or smoke – such as under debris or in a fire … This progress will probably have considerable ramifications for the development of multisensory robots, just as people have multiple senses. "
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