Army dudes sat down with scientists at University of Michigan and other schools and asked for a simple frickin' bionic bat with frickin' stereo cameras, miniaturised radar, ultra-sensitive self-guidance, "energy scavenging" recharging capability and a radio to send data back to troops in urban combat zones. Was that too much to ask? Here's how it's working out for them:
The proposal is for the bat to be just six inches in length, weigh only four ounces and use just one watt of power, backed by a lithium-ion battery, which could be charged by not just solar energy, but wind energy and random vibrations as well. The bat's intended goal would be to run surveillance ops and relay data in realtime, including sights and sounds from minicams and mini-microphones, but also radiation and poison gas readings.
The UMich grant consists of US$10 million over five years, creating the U-M Centre for Objective Microelectronics and Biomimetic Advanced Technology (dubbed "COM-BAT"—pun intended). The focus is to shrink down many electronics that while currently available would only be good if the US Army wanted, say, a 12-foot spy-bat. Not too stealthy.
For energy recovery, UMich will work to develop "quantum dot solar cells," making current solar cells twice as nice. The bat's autonomous navi system will be 1,000 times smaller than current systems, and that much more energy efficient too. The comms system will be shrunk to one-tenth the current size, too. You can see how all of this shrinkage will have positive impact outside the bionic-bat community as well. [UMich via Ubergizmo]