By Andrew Liszewski
The University of Michigan was recently awarded a $10 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Army to develop a six inch robotic spy plane that bears a striking resemblance to a bat. In fact, the grant helped establish the U-M Center for Objective Microelectronics and Biomimetic Advanced Technology, or COM-BAT for short, re-etablishing the U.S. Army as a world leader in clever acronyms.
The COM-BAT is designed to provide short-term but real-time surveillance and feedback to soldiers in urban combat zones using a collection of sight, sound and smell sensors. One of the biggest hurdles is finding a way to give the COM-BAT a usable amount of battery life between charges, and the Army is hoping that the spy plane could scavenge power from vibrations, wind and of course the sun, which the University of Michigan has a particular expertise in. The COM-BAT project will also be used to vastly improve other existing technologies like solar cells and navigation and communication systems, which the team already feels can be dramatically reduced in size. The University of Michigan is actually one of four centers chosen by the Army for the project (the University of California at Berkeley and the University of New Mexico were also chosen) and while each school will be responsible for developing a different system on the spy plane, they’ll all be working as part of a collaborative effort.