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Flight of the Robobee

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Microrobots from the National Science Foundation-supported RoboBees project could one day assist in reconnaissance, aid in remote communication, or even act as artificial pollinators.

Credit: Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon

Researchers involved with the U.S. National Science Foundation-supported "RoboBees" project recently presented work demonstrating that their aerial microrobots now can perch during flight to save energy, in the same way as bats, birds, and butterflies.

The team used an electrode patch, which takes advantage of electrostatic adhesion, to enable the RoboBees to stick to almost any surface, from glass to wood to a leaf.

The mechanism requires about 1,000 times less power to perch than it does to hover.

"When making robots the size of insects, simplicity and low power are always key constraints," says Harvard University professor Robert Wood, who is leading the project.

The RoboBees project aims to create autonomous robotic insects capable of sustained, independent flight.

Wood estimates it will take another five to 10 years before the RoboBee might be ready for use in the real world. The robots could one day assist in reconnaissance, aid in remote communication, or act as artificial pollinators.

The team now has begun work on making the perching mechanism omnidirectional and developing onboard power sources that could enable RoboBees to fly untethered.

From National Science Foundation
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