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Robot Bat Wing Reveals How Mammals Took Flight and Beat Birds at Their Own Game

Posted February 26, 2013 3:38 PM

From ExtremeTech:

Bats are flying mammals. Think about that. Many millions of years after birds hollowed out their very bones in pursuit of flight, some gliding, insectivorous squirrel-thing was born with a slight deformity. Perhaps it was as simple as a double-joint that let the animal raise and lower its arm while gliding, and perhaps that freak could slightly increase its range as a result. The remarkable path taken by bat physiology since that day has produced a model for flight that might well be more efficient than a bird's. That's right: Mammals win again.

For some time, engineers have puzzled over how bats could generate so much lift and so little drag, and how they could seem to do it while using less energy than even more specialized flyers like moths or birds. Wind tunnel experiments offered insight, implicating the leathery skin that stretches between the wing's four primary fingers. The soft wing material allows the bat to fold the wing and spill air even more effectively than a bird, on a given upstroke. This means that the lift generated in the downstroke, itself augmented by using the fingers to cup the air, won't be cancelled out when the wing comes back up.

This week, a team of researchers decided to ditch the unreliable little creatures in favor of an automated solution - like so many Americans, these test bats have seen their industry mechanized. Brown University scientists built a mechanical wing to precisely mimic the structure and range of motion of the real thing, and to measure the effects of tiny changes in those motions. "We can't ask a bat to flap at a frequency of eight hertz then raise it to nine hertz so we can see what difference that makes," Bahlman said. "They don't really cooperate that way."

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#1

Re: Robot Bat Wing Reveals How Mammals Took Flight and Beat Birds at Their Own Game

02/26/2013 10:46 PM

".. was born with a slight deformity" that's not how evolution actually works.

Rather in the pre bat population there were some who (as part of natural variation) had slightly greater range of movement and this conferred an advantage.

I know this is nit picking, but I'm aware that many in the U.S. don't understand how evolution works (perhaps due to home schooling).

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Re: Robot Bat Wing Reveals How Mammals Took Flight and Beat Birds at Their Own Game

02/27/2013 8:04 AM

Mutation would have been the proper word, not deformity. And I don't think the problem is a lack of understanding, or home schooling. I think most people understand the basic concept, they just choose to follow their religious upbringing. For years I had a supervisor who was an EE with a masters degree from MIT. Brilliant guy, and a great boss but also deeply religious and a believer in intelligent design. I learned from him not to assume that evolution deniers are stupid or unschooled.

On the other hand, I think it's cool that even back then we had this:

(Image by faceway at deviantart.com)

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