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Robotic Insects Take Flight

Building on work that allowed researchers to more rapidly and economically build small-scale flying robots, Harvard University graduate student Pakpong Chirarattananon’s “RoboBee” took to the air for its first flight. The flight represents success for not only for Chirarattananon, but also for the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.

“This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12 years,” said Robert J. Wood, professor of engineering and applied sciences at SEAS. “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.”

Eventually, small-scale robots like these could provide functions such as crop pollination or surveillance. Courtesy of Wyss Institute.

The RoboBee is actually based on the biology of a fly, including membranous wings that flap up to 120 times per second. With a body constructed from carbon fiber, the entirety of the robot weighs under a tenth of a gram. For now the robot is still tethered to a tiny line that serves to power it and supply directions, but Harvard is working on systems to make the robots fully autonomous.

“This project provides a common motivation for scientists and engineers across the university to build smaller batteries, to design more efficient control systems, and to create stronger, more lightweight materials,” says Wood. “You might not expect all of these people to work together: vision experts, biologists, materials scientists, electrical engineers. What do they have in common? Well, they all enjoy solving really hard problems.”

Below you’ll find a video about the project.

Source: Wyss Institute

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