We can teach wind turbines to speak bats’ language so we can prevent harm that we may unintentionally cause.
What we see, hear and smell is a large part of our experience of the world around us. Yet it’s not always how other creatures experience reality. We can turn this knowledge into a benefit not only for humans but also for other creatures.
Take bats. These flying mammals are known for being able to hear sounds at frequencies unavailable to the human ear. Yet bats often fail to detect hazards like wind turbines until it’s too late. In the United States alone, the 52,000 wind turbines keep killing hundreds of thousands of bats every year.
According to a new paper in the journal Acoustical Society of America, we can teach wind turbines to speak bats’ language so we can prevent immense harm that we may unintentionally cause. Whistles mounted on wind turbines can help by creating ultrasonic sounds that bats use to find their way around. We can’t hear these frequencies, but bats can so they’ll be able to keep out of harm’s way.
Experiments show that it works. A whistle that recreates the anatomical structures in a bat’s larynx was developed by researchers at the Texas A&M University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 3D printed and requiring zero power, the whistle can reach bats at distances of over 100 meters.
As a turbine’s blades turn, air passes through the whistles, creating an ultrasonic noise similar to bats’ echolocation signals. Bats approaching the turbine hear the sound and change direction to avoid a collision.
“Our approach focuses on producing a sound bats could easily recognize and locate, thereby making it easier for them to avoid the moving turbine blades,” Michael Smotherman, a professor at Texas A&M University, explains. “Using this neuroethological approach to the design and implementation gives us a better chance for success”.
The technology is still in a test phase, but it could work wonders in reducing deaths among bats. Wind power is already one of the key clean energy sources and it keeps on growing. The principle behind the whistle can also help inspire projects aimed at creating nature-friendly AI or making sure any future developments are in line with the needs of animals and plants.