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Bats’ flying skills give clues to develop new-age aircraft

Did you know that bats have sensors in their wings that help them perform those mind-boggling mid-flight stunts?

This unique array of sensory receptors in the wing provides feedback to a bat during flight, finds a new study.

Understanding in detail the mechanisms behind bats’ flight can help build the next generation of fighter aircrafts, researchers say.

“Humans cannot currently build aircrafts that match the agility of bats, so a better grasp of these processes could inspire new aircraft design and new sensors for monitoring airflow,” said co-senior study author Ellen Lumpkin from the Columbia University.

The findings also suggest that neurons in the bats’ brain respond to incoming airflow and touch signals, triggering rapid adjustments in wing position to optimise flight control.

“This study provides evidence that the sense of touch plays a key role in the evolution of powered flight in mammals,” Lumpkin said.

“This research also lays the groundwork for understanding what sensory information bats use to perform such remarkable feats when flying through the air and catching insects,” the researcher added.

Bats must rapidly integrate different types of sensory information to catch insects and avoid obstacles while flying.

Recently, the researchers discovered that microscopic wing hair stimulated by airflow, are critical for flight behaviours such as turning and controlling speed.

But until now, it was not known how bats use tactile feedback from their wings to control flight behaviours.

The bat wing has a unique distribution of hair follicles and touch-sensitive receptors, and different parts of the wing are equipped to send different types of sensory information to the brain, the researchers said.

“While sensory cells located between the ‘fingers’ could respond to skin stretch and changes in wind direction, another set of receptors associated with hairs could be specialised for detecting turbulent airflow during flight,” said co-author Susanne Sterbing-D’Angelo from the Johns Hopkins University.

The study was published in the journal Cell Reports.

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