Our skies are about to get a lot more high-tech as a team of researchers is developing robotic bees that can fly themselves. The Harvard University’s National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported RoboBees project aims to create autonomous robotic insects capable of sustained, independent flight. Such robots could one day assist in reconnaissance, aid in remote communication or even act as artificial pollinators. Also Read - Facebook for Android will soon get dark mode and coronavirus tracking featureAlso Read - Scientists develop soft contact lens that can zoom with a blink
Led by principal investigator Robert Wood, the researchers have designed increasingly sophisticated and tiny robots with a range of features that will one day soon enable autonomous flying. To do so the team required to advance basic research in a number of areas where they saw obstacles to realizing their vision: from micro-manufacturing methods and materials for actuation, to small-scale energy storage and algorithms to effectively control individuals and coordinated swarms of robots. Also Read - Increasing smartphone usage may be resulting in growing horns on our skull; research suggests
The group’s research led to breakthroughs in each of these areas. Highlights include new methods for manufacturing millimeter-scale devices based on lamination and folding; new sensors applicable to low-power and mobile computing applications; architectures for ultra-low power computing; and coordination algorithms for collections of hundreds or even thousands of robots to work together. The team was inspired by nature, specifically the incredible ability of small insects to self-launch, navigate and perform agile actions despite their small bodies.
“Bees and other social insects provide a fascinating model for engineered systems that can maneuver in unstructured environments, sense their surroundings, communicate and perform complex tasks as a collective full of relatively simple individuals,” Wood said. “The RoboBees project grew out of this inspiration and has developed solutions to numerous fundamental challenges — challenges that are motivated by the small scale of the individual and large scale of the collective.” Today’s RoboBee weighs only 84 milligrams, roughly the same size and even lighter than a real bee, and represents a model of successful interdisciplinary collaboration.Wood estimates it will take another five to 10 years before the RoboBee might be ready for use in the real world.