The Batbot

Saturday, November 01, 1997
It may be missing fangs and wings, but this two-eared robot has a few things in common with bats: it recognizes objects using echolocation. Although other robots also use sonar to judge distance, the batbot’s sonar is so keen that it can tell if a coin is resting heads or tails up. Yale electrical engineer Roman Kuc developed his sensitive robot by mimicking the way bats use their ears to pinpoint an insect on the wing--the bats move their ears to pick up echoes from different parts of the insect’s body. The batbot also has ears that can shift around, and it sits on a movable arm. Unlike other systems, in which a robot must scan a large dictionary of images in its memory, the batbot needs to learn only a few images because it can change perspectives until it finds one that it recognizes. Kuc says a computer equipped with one of his devices could be a boon for the handicapped. A person could simply command the computer with facial expressions such as an open mouth, a closed mouth, or the blink of an eye.
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