bbatsBats have a unique way of navigating.

Using the same digital sculpting and animation tools that artists use for video games and animated films, Webster and his students are developing a production pipeline that cleans scanned data of bat specimen noses so they can then be used to study the ultrasonic behavior of the dynamic devices using high-performance computing.

Biological systems are often ahead of engineering when it comes to finding innovative, powerful solutions. In particular, dynamic solutions that give a lot of headaches to engineers come naturally to biological systems. This leads to dynamic solutions cropping up in unexpected places.

Bats, for example, have an active sonar sensing system that allows them to travel in complete darkness solely by listening to the echoes triggered by their own ultrasonic emissions. Part of the secret behind this extraordinary feat may lie in ubiquitous dynamic effects: Bats rely on complicated shapes for interacting with the ultrasonic waves they emit and receive.

Their outer ears have many unusual shape features and even more unusual are the shapes that surround the nostrils in species that emit their bio-sonar pulses nasally. These structures are not only remarkable because of their Gothic shape features, but also because they can be set in motion and undergo many different types of nonrigid shape changes.

The same process used for preparing specific body parts for sounds analysis is also being utilized as part of an effort to creating a repository of digital models that catalogues the immense biodiversity found in bats. Working alongside Webster and Mueller is Anupam Gupta, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student spearheading the sound analysis work on the bat noses.

Webster, Mueller and Gupta hope to achieve a setup for the automated (robotic) three-dimensional digitization of biological specimens from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History using high-resolution computer tomography.

“Through our team’s expertise in advanced imaging and visualization techniques,” said Webster, “we will also be able to effect a major transformative impact not only on how biological specimens are digitized, but also on how biological specimen data can be explored in the digital domain.”

For more information, visit Mueller’s faculty page with the Department of Mechanical Engineering.