Bats may help bolster radar technology
The natural ability in bats to navigate and track targets in the dark of night may help them develop a new and more effective radar or sonar system.
"Temporal binding hypothesis" can explain this.
The hypothesis proposes that people and animals focus on objects versus the background when a set of neurons in the brain attuned to features of an object respond in synchrony.
"When the neurons do not respond together to an object, the hypothesis predicts, the object is relegated to the perceptual background," said James Simmons, a professor of neuroscience at Brown University.
As bats have an acute need to track prey through crowded scenes, albeit with echolocation rather than vision, they have evolved to become an ideal test-bed for the hypothesis.
With support from sources including the US navy, Simmons' research group has experimentally verified this.
When the objects are at different distances, the bat can tell them apart and accurately crawl to the target.
When the objects are equidistant, the bat becomes confused.
Crucially, when the experimenters artificially weaken the high-pitched harmonic from the distracting object, even when it remains equidistant, the bat's acumen to find the target is restored.
In further experiments, Simmons' team showed that if they shifted the distractor object's weakened signal by the right amount of time (15 microseconds per decibel), they could restore the distractor's ability to interfere with the target object by restoring the synchrony of the distractor's harmonics.
In other words, they used the specific predictions of the hypothesis and their understanding of how it works in bats to jam the bat's echolocation ability.
According to Simmons, the evidence he has gathered about the neuroscience of bats not only supports the temporal binding hypothesis, but also can inspire new technology.
"This is a better way to design a radar or sonar system if you need it to perform well in real-time for a small vehicle in complicated tasks," he added.
(Posted on 17-08-2014)