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Move over, Batman: you have a new rival. A drone with bat-like wings has completed its first flight over water (see video above).

Inspired by the way bats change the shape of their wings to control their movement, Robert Bleischwitz of the University of Southampton, UK, and his colleagues designed thin, flexible wings that use the same principle. The force of air passing over the membranes causes vibrations that enhance the drone’s aerodynamics. “It’s similar to vibrations seen in flags during a storm,” says Bleischwitz.

During take-off, the drone behaves like a hovercraft as air is forced below the wing. Once in the air, it can continue to skim across the water or cruise at greater speeds a metre or so in the air.

Souped up

A new version of the wings, which will be tested on drones later this year, can change shape – stiffening or relaxing when voltage is applied. Shape-shifting wings can quickly provide extra lift or help maintain stability in gusty conditions. They are also more efficient, meaning the drone will be able to carry heavier loads.

The ability to take off on water and skim over flat surfaces will make the drone useful for surveillance around islands or in deserts, says Bleischwitz.

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