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Autonomous Flying Microrobots (RoboBees)

August 11, 2017

Autonomously flying microrobots with potential uses in crop pollination, search and rescue missions, surveillance, as well as high-resolution weather, climate and environmental monitoring

Inspired by the biology of a bee, researchers at the Wyss Institute are developing RoboBees, manmade systems that could perform myriad roles in agriculture or disaster relief. A RoboBee measures about half the size of a paper clip, weighs less that one-tenth of a gram, and flies using “artificial muscles” compromised of materials that contract when a voltage is applied.

The masterminding of the RoboBee was motivated by the idea to develop autonomous micro-aerial vehicles capable of self-contained, self-directed flight and of achieving coordinated behavior in large groups. To that end, the RoboBee development is broadly divided into three main components: the Body, Brain, and Colony. Body development consists of constructing robotic insects able to fly on their own with the help of a compact and seamlessly integrated power source; brain development is concerned with “smart” sensors and control electronics that mimic the eyes and antennae of a bee, and can sense and respond dynamically to the environment; the Colony’s focus is about coordinating the behavior of many independent robots so they act as an effective unit.

Robert Wood of Wyss Institute at Harvard University said, It’s really only because of this lab’s recent breakthroughs in manufacturing, materials, and design that we have even been able to try this. And it just worked, spectacularly well.”

To construct RoboBees, researchers at the Wyss Institute have developed innovative manufacturing methods, so-called Pop-Up microelectromechanical (MEMs) technologies (please also see the Pop-Up MEMS technology page) that have already greatly expanded the boundaries of current robotics design and engineering.

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