As somebody who loves technology and wildlife and also needs to develop an old farmhouse, going down the bat detector rabbit hole was a journey hard to resist. Bats are ideal animals for hackers to monitor as they emit ultrasonic frequencies from their mouths and noses to communicate with each other, detect their prey and navigate their way around obstacles such as trees — all done in pitch black darkness. On a slight downside, many species just love to make their homes in derelict buildings and, being protected here in the EU, developers need to make a rigorous survey to ensure as best as possible that there are no bats roosting in the site.
Obviously, the authorities require a professional independent survey, but there’s still plenty of opportunity for hacker participation by performing a ‘pre-survey’. Finding bat roosts with DIY detectors will tell us immediately if there is a problem, and give us a head start on rethinking our plans.
As can be expected, bat detectors come in all shapes and sizes, using various electrickery techniques to make them cheaper to build or easier to use. There are four different techniques most popularly used in bat detectors.
- Heterodyne: rather like tuning a radio, pitch is reduced without slowing the call down.
- Time expansion: chunks of data are slowed down to human audible frequencies.
- Frequency division: uses a digital counter IC to divide the frequency down in real time.
- Full spectrum: the full acoustic spectrum is recorded as a wav file.
Fortunately, recent advances in technology have now enabled manufacturers to produce relatively cheap full spectrum devices, which give the best resolution and the best chances of identifying the actual bat species.
DIY bat detectors tend to be of the frequency division type and are great for helping spot bats emerging from buildings. An audible noise from a speaker or headphones can prompt us to confirm that the fleeting black shape that we glimpsed was actually a bat and not a moth in the foreground. I used one of these detectors in conjunction with a video recorder to confirm that a bat was indeed NOT exiting from an old chimney pot. Phew!