Jan 26, 2017 | By Julia

A team of devoted middle schoolers in Kentucky are using 3D printing to save the environment ‒ one bat at a time. Meet Team Blackout: five enterprising robotics students from Whitefield Academy who are making waves with their entry into this year’s FIRST LEGO League (FLL), a local robotics competition for youngsters aged 9-14. The entry, a modular shelter for displaced bats that can be printed on most desktop 3D printers, will compete at the Kentucky State FLL tournament this February 4th at Northern Kentucky University.

Team Blackout’s functional and adorable “Bat Bunker” comes in the midst of a growing ecological crisis currently facing the Kentucky bat population. Since 2013, the number of bats in Kentucky has declined by a whopping 83%, largely due to widespread habitat destruction and disease.

The issue could pose a serious problem for humans, too: bats play a critical role in both pest-control and pollination; their extinction could lead to a surge in illnesses carried by mosquitoes and other insects, not to mention a billion-dollar deficit for Kentucky’s agricultural industry. And with the furry winged creatures birthing only about one pup a year, odds are stacked against the population to ever recover on their own.

With this in mind, alongside the competition’s ecological theme “Animal Allies,” Team Blackout set to work constructing a bat house: a man-made structure that provides displaced bats with a safe environment to roost and raise their young. Larger bat houses can house hundreds of bats, and with a growing number of concerned citizens installing bat houses on their property, Team Blackout’s Bat Bunker is a welcome innovation.

Whereas most bat houses are handmade, requiring specific tools and carpentry skills, Team Blackout wanted to design a structure that anyone could build. The group turned to Louisville-based engineering and 3D printing company 3 Space, who introduced the middle schoolers to some basic 3D modelling software as well as a few initial design concepts.

After lots of research and experimentation, the team came up with the Bat Bunker: a modular bat house that can be printed on most home 3D printers. Comprised of three expandable sections, the Bat Bunker features a Voronoi pattern on the interior, with textured walls ideal for climbing and roosting. A small opening in the bottom plate is wide enough for a bat but small enough to keep predators out.

Best of all, the bat house design is free for download on Thingiverse and GrabCad, enabling anyone with a 3D printer to lend a helping hand (or wing) to bats everywhere. For those without access to a 3D printer, Team Blackout encourages use of the platforms MakeXYZ.com or 3DHubs.com, which put users in touch with willing 3D printer owners nearby.

Team Blackout is coached by Robert Toole, Allen Thomasson, and Charles Pomles. The students will compete at the Kentucky State FLL tournament at Northern Kentucky University on Saturday, February 4th.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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