This experiment is part of the Animal Superpower Challenge Challenge Grant. Browse more projects

Bioinspired Engineering: Learning how bats use echolocation to develop novel dynamic sensors

Raised of $3,000 Goal
Ended on 4/30/16
Campaign Ended
  • $163
  • 6%
  • Finished
    on 4/30/16

About This Project

Bats use biosonar to navigate, changing the shape of their ears and nostrils to alter the sound they hear to obtain information about their environment. We are working on a novel dynamic sensing system mimicking that of bats by adding this motion to make sensing in natural environments more reliable. In this project, we hope to study the behavior of live bats to better understand when the effects of the motion affect the animals' perception, so we can better recreate this in our robotic systems.

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What is the context of this research?

Bats have developed a unique super-sense, a biosonar system that analyzes echoes which are triggered by the animals' ultrasonic emissions and allows for bats to navigate under difficult conditions. No sonar system available today is capable of performing under such circumstances despite being larger and more complicated. Whereas technical sonars often have several hundreds of emitting and receiving elements, bats only use a few anatomical “devices”, the mouth or the nostrils for emission and the ears for reception. The most effective bat biosonar systems are highly dynamic, with moving parts playing a great role in the reception and processing of the incoming sound, and allowing the animal to obtain crucial information about its environment.

What is the significance of this project?

Bats have a very sophisticated "biosonar" which they can use to navigate dark, dense forests at night using echolocation. Current man-made sonar cannot come close to performing at the level of bats despite being larger and more complicated. We work to use bats’ “biosonar” system as an inspiration to develop new principles for dynamic sensing. We build robotic sonar systems that mimic bats and perhaps will guide robots through dense forests one day. We have a small robotic bat head with dynamic emission and reception in operation, but we do not know how to coordinate these motions with sensing tasks. The research proposed will allow us to look for correlations between motions and sensing by studying the behavior of live bats and allow us to further improve the design of our sonar systems.

What are the goals of the project?

By utilizing our partnership with Shandong University in China, one of us will be able to look at the behavior of some very sophisticated species of bats in detail. To do this we will record their behaviors using multi-camera high-speed computer vision and an ultrasonic microphone array with 24 microphones. The bats' heads will be somewhat fixed so that they will automatically react to whatever target is in front of them. We will then observe how the movements of the bats' ears and nostrils correlate with changes in the characteristics of sound being recorded. The data obtained will hope to coordinate motions with sensing tasks and provide direction towards the next generations of our robotic sonar head.


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The funding requested here, will allow one of us to travel to Shandong University in China and stay there for an extended time (about 8 weeks). Shandong University houses some very sophisticated bat species that are excellent choices for our behavioral study. The high speed cameras and microphone arrays at the lab at Shandong University will allow for the collection of crucial data which can then be used to improve the robotic bat head being developed at Virginia Tech.

Endorsed by

This is an exciting project which has great potential. Implementing the knowledge learned from nature into the human application will be one of the most rewarding areas to explore. Bat-sonar inspired engineering will have broad application, such as ultrasound echolocation , human voice recognition and internet of things.

Meet the Team

Joseph Sutlive
Joseph Sutlive


Virginia Tech
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Rolf Mueller
Rolf Mueller
Associate Professor


Virginia Tech
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Joseph Sutlive

I am a current graduate student at Virginia Tech. I have a love for both biology as well as engineering and love working on projects which allow me to explore and bridge both my interests to develop valuable new technologies. The bat research I have done has allowed me to do this by learning from an animal model to create new kinds of sonar and sensing systems.

Rolf Mueller

I am fascinated by the interdisciplinary area between biology and engineering. In particular, I am looking at the biosonar of bats as a model for small - yet extremely powerful - sensors that could eventually support autonomy in difficult natural environments.

Lab Notes

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Project Backers

  • 6Backers
  • 6%Funded
  • $163Total Donations
  • $27.17Average Donation
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