Bats are being studied by the Air Force
Bats don't have the best reputation, but the University of Maryland is studying these mammals to uncover secrets that may be useful for future technology.
University professor Cynthia Moss says the bats came from the bio-dome in Montreal.
“There's a lot of cliché things, (for example that) bats attack, and they don't. They're very vulnerable creatures and easy to work with,” said lab manager Janna Barcelo.
The university works with two types of bats, the Carollia and the Glossophaga. Because these two species are native to the rainforest, the temperature in their cage stays around 80 degrees.
In a controlled environment, Moss and her colleagues are investigating the mammals' swift and agile movements.
“The wing of the bat is highly specialized there's a membrane that's very thin, and embedded in the membrane are muscles, and connective tissue and lots of different receptors,” Moss says.
With seven years of research and funding from the Air Force, the group discovered that the tiny hairs on the wings of bats act like sensors.
“They may be able to sense the speed in which they're flying and may detect stall,” Moss says.
In tests, when hair was removed, they found a change in behavior.
“Their turns were wider, and they flew a little bit faster, which suggests that they had lost this ability to sense their flight speed through the hairs, once they were removed,” explains Moss.
This research is just one part of an on-going project among Brown, MIT and Oregon State universities. Moss says this information offers new possibilities for creating tiny aircraft, that the military could one day use in the field.
“If these vehicles were equipped with sensors like the bat has, that might be useful in making them agile flyers,” she says.
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