In the Seeing Voices Project we want to disentangle the role of multimodal cues in vocal learning in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) by using state of the art techniques, like color realistic imagery, virtual reality and robotics. Our work is funded by the Human Frontiers Science Program. Read here more about it.
In this project, which is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation (not affiliated with the car company of the same name, but rather known to fund highly innovative research in various fields) we devolved sonar reflectors, which are inspired by the reflectors bat-pollinated plants. They evolved these passive acoustic signals to attract echolocating bats. Bio-inspired reflectors can be used as landmarks for sonar guided systems. Find here a first paper on classification of sonar targets and stay tuned for a full description of our method, which will innovate mobile robot navigation!
In this project, which is going on now for almost 10 years, I collect echo-acoustic fingerprints of bat-pollinated flowers, bat dispersed fruits and other bat dependent plants. We found sophisticated echo acoustic adaptations like the dish-shaped leaves of Marcgravia evenia in Cuba which act like acoustic beacons or the echo reflective pitchers of the pitcher plant Nepenthes hemsleyana, which lives in a mutualistic relationship with bats. Recently we also found sound absorbing structures in bat pollinated cacti, which make use of an acoustic contrast enhancement mechanism.