The 'Robat,' developed by researchers at Tel Aviv University, is the first robot to navigate purely using echolocation. The 'Robat,' developed by researchers at Tel Aviv University, is the first robot to navigate purely using echolocation. The 'Robat,' developed by researchers at Tel Aviv University, is the first robot to navigate purely using echolocation. (Photo: Tel Aviv University)

Breakthrough robot navigates using bat-inspired senses

Using echolocation, the 'Robat' terrestrial vehicle can move through dark, low-vision surroundings with ease.

A new bat-inspired robot has been developed with technology so clever and advanced that you'd be forgiven for thinking it came straight out of Bruce Wayne's bat cave.

Nicknamed the "Robat," the breakthrough autonomous vehicle utilizes echolocation, the same bio sonar used by dolphins, bats and shrews, to effortlessly roll through its surroundings in total darkness. It was developed at Tel Aviv University's Bat Lab in Israel, an advanced research laboratory dedicated to the study of bats, under the guidance of Professor Yossi Yovel, Dr. Gabor Kosa, and graduate student Itamar Eliakim.

“Our Robat is the first fully autonomous, bat-like biorobot that moves through a novel environment while mapping it solely based on echo information. This information delineates the borders of objects and the free paths between them," said Eliakim. "We've been able to demonstrate the great potential of using sound in future robotic applications."

While some may be surprised to learn that bats actually possess excellent eyesight, their use of echolocation becomes extremely important while hunting in low-to-zero light conditions. By comparison, the Robat relies purely on sound to map its environment, utilizing an ultrasonic speaker to produce frequency-modulated chirps every 1.5 feet. As these chirps reflect off objects, two ultrasonic microphones receive the signals and interpret their distance and shape.

You can see a demonstration of the Robat moving through a botanical garden in Israel in the video below.

"It classifies the borders and shapes of the objects it encounters with an artificial neural network, creating a rich, accurate map of its environment while avoiding obstacles," the researchers shared in a press release. "For example, when reaching a dead end, the robot uses its classification abilities to determine whether it is blocked by a wall or by a plant through which it could pass."

In a paper published in the journal PLOS, the researchers say the development of echolocation for use in future robots holds great potential for advanced obstacle avoidance, object recognition and path planning in unknown environments. Applications such as search and rescue in caves or guidance of autonomous drones in poor weather could prove invaluable during emergency situations.

"Our work thus proves the great potential of using acoustic echoes to map and navigate, a potential that is translated into action by echolocating bats on a daily basis," the team concludes.

Something tells us Bruce Wayne would be proud.

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Breakthrough robot navigates using bat-inspired senses
Using echolocation, the 'Robat' terrestrial vehicle can move through dark, low-vision surroundings with ease.