This robotic bat can produce a detailed map of its surroundings using sonar technology, even though it doesn’t really look like a robot. Developed by Tel Aviv University, Robat doesn’t have wings and therefore can’t fly, but it uses the same sensors to work out where objects are.

It has a speaker that sends out tiny sounds – batlike chirps – and then measures how the sound bounces back to work out where objects are using its ear microphones. It was created by a team of engineers, zoologists and neuroscientists who pooled their knowledge to make Robat as efficient as possible.

“Unlike the narrow-band signals typically used in robotic applications, the bat’s wide-band signals provide ample spatial information allowing it to localize multiple reflectors within a single beam,” the study said. “This is the approach we aimed to test and mimic in this study.”

Robat was able to work out where the borders of objects were in an outside space, showing that ambient noise doesn’t affect how accurate the robot can be. It then used a neural network to determine whether the objects were plants or other objects and their size, moving around them and creating a map of the environment for future reference.

The researchers suggested a sonar-powered robot like Robat could be used for a wide range of applications, including for driverless cars, military mapping and search and rescue robots that need to work out where they are, avoiding potentially dangerous objects.

One things the researchers need to finesse is the speed at which Robat operates. At the moment, it has to stop for 30 seconds every 1.6 feet (0.5 metres) to send out the chirps.