Background to ChiRoPing

Project abstract

Versatile and robust systems able to respond sensibly to challenges not precisely specified in their design depend on (amongst other competences) effective perception systems able to function in complex and variable conditions. The principal objective of the Chiroping project is to discover how to engineer such systems, specifically embodied active sonar perception systems which can serve as a complement to vision and facilitate the deployment of robotic systems in situations where vision is infeasible.
For understanding the implementation of sonar systems able to function in demanding and open-ended environments, the Chiroptera (bats) are an obvious source of ideas. Their astounding diversity of diet and habitat attests to their success in integrating morphological, acoustic and behavioural parameters to enable robust and versatile hunting behaviours — the bat equivalent of tangible object handling.

The project will implement and evaluate two demonstration systems built as biomimetic models of an insect gleaning and a water-trawling bat species respectively. It uses a classic biomimetic methodology, involving close collaboration between bat ethologists and roboticists. First we identify and measure the relevant acoustic and morphological parameters of a few carefully selected bat species, then reconstruct from that the bat’s acoustic experience as it flies through natural hunting tasks. From this data, computational models of how the bat coordinates its acoustic, behavioural and morphological choices during hunting are being elicited and implemented on appropriate robotic systems. The robustness, versatility and generality of these implemented models will be evaluated from an engineering standpoint as example embodied active sonar perception systems, using tasks analogous to the hunting tasks of their living prototypes; evaluation from a biological standpoint will also be carried out.

Investigating and reverse engineering bat sonar

Project concept: The principal objective of the project is to discover ways of realising robust and versatile embodied active sonar sensor systems based on bats, who are Nature’s experts in this technology. Such sensors complement visual sensing and, as attested by bats, offer sufficient discriminatory ability to support new kinds of cognitive robotic systems.

The strategy pursued involves measuring many aspects of the variations in morphology of our selected bat species and the sound emitted while they hunt. From this data we reconstruct the bat’s acoustic experience as it flies through the task, and attempt to identify the most important features. These are then incorporated into robotic models which can be assessed both by engineers and by bat biologists.
The page covering the state of the art at the start of this project will help the reader to see where this work has moved the technology forward.