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Check Out the World's Smallest Flying Robot Insect

By - Source: Harvard | B 13 comments
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Hands up who else can't wait to see a swarm of these?

Good things come in small packages, right? Well, how about this for a small package: The video below shows the world's smallest flying robot insect. It's a demonstration of the first controlled flight of an insect-sized robot and it's the product of more than a decade of work from researchers at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

Harvard said Thursday that the RoboBee project was inspired by the biology of a fly and uses a submillimeter-scale anatomy with two wafer-thin wings that flap 120 times per second.

"This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12 years," Robert J. Wood, Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS, Wyss Core Faculty Member, and principal investigator of the National Science Foundation-supported RoboBee project, is quoted as saying. "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."

Uses for the minute robot include environmental monitoring and search-and-rescue operations, but Harvard says the materials, fabrication techniques, and components may be even more significant, and is already in the process of commercializing some of the underlying technology. Check out the video of the little guy in action:

Controlled flight of a robotic insect

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  • 2 Hide
    DarkSable , May 5, 2013 7:26 AM
    My first reaction: "Oh my god it's adorable and I want one."
  • 2 Hide
    edgewood112358 , May 5, 2013 7:41 AM
    Too cool! I wonder how long it will "bee" though, before they can actually integrate the power supply onto the robot itself, so that it can "fly" untethered...
  • 1 Hide
    xalted , May 5, 2013 8:42 AM
    Robot insect? Perfect for the world of espionage. Pretty sure I've seen it in a movie or some anime, though. Only problem? The almighty flyswatter.
  • Display all 13 comments.
  • -3 Hide
    Zeppelingcdm , May 5, 2013 2:19 PM
    The military has had this technology for a while now. Their version has audio and video streaming, as well as using electrical outlets or heat sources to recharge it's battery through induction charging. In theory giving it unlimited use.
  • 4 Hide
    velocityg4 , May 5, 2013 2:41 PM
    My first thought is, "Great, soon enough the government will be able to easily hide mobile video and audio surveillance into everybody's homes without them knowing." I'm guessing the British will experience this first. Then a bunch of fools will defend it saying that if your not doing anything illegal why should you care. Just as they said for all the cameras everywhere, security scanners and pat downs in public areas.
  • 3 Hide
    Pailin , May 5, 2013 4:27 PM
    I would be interested to see a link to That Zeppelingcdm, but somehow I doubt it.
    I still believe we are a way off sustained remote flight, we simply don't have anything with enough energy density today for such small scale items.
    Makes me respect the insects for their sustained energy output and beautiful flight like the dragonfly. Really amazing!
  • -1 Hide
    Stephen Kong , May 5, 2013 4:50 PM
    Assassin drone shooting poison darts.
  • -3 Hide
    Zeppelingcdm , May 5, 2013 5:25 PM
    @ Pailin, Not my research man. It's an author named Dan Brown's research for his Book Deception Point.
    "Author’s Note
    The Delta Force, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the Space Frontier
    Foundation are real organizations. All technologies described in this novel exist."
    There is a 3-4 page section going into detail about the surveillance bot. I would confirm Dan's research myself but I doubt anyone at the NRO would talk to me.
  • 0 Hide
    bit_user , May 5, 2013 7:35 PM
    Zeppelingcdm, your first clue should be that induction charging needs an inductor and flow of current. Therefore, it can't work well on just a wire coming out of an electrical socket, nor can it use heat.
    Secondly, if the Internet has taught us anything, it's that the world has no shortage of conspiracies nor of people who believe them. I'm amazed that it's usually the same people who complain about government incompetance that somehow think the government is so amazingly brilliant at developing advanced technologies that are decades ahead of the commercial sector even capable of deploying them on a mass scale w/o the widespread knowledge of the public.
    Maybe I'm just talking sense, but who knows - I could actually part of the conspiracy! Spooky!
  • 0 Hide
    bambiboom , May 6, 2013 4:03 AM
    Delightful in it's way, and the miniaturized motor and wing linkage is interesting.
    However, it's not properly described as a "robot" as there is not even semi-autonomy nor any reactive system. Nor is the device an "insect" in that the lift is not replicating any find of natural wing action- there's no beetle, dragonfly, or bird that has completely vertically oscillating wings that also do not change shape. I suspect that some degree of stability is due to the tether wire. The ground effects lift system limits the height. The reason it can't be internally powered is the inefficiency of the wings- they should have just used a rotor / fan. It's not a robot insect, it's a highly inefficient, relatively unstable, wire-controlled hovercraft.
    This is far from being a candidate for any practical use> besides the height limitation and inefficiency requiring external power, motion is limited to two axes - up and down and side to side- there is no 3-axis control. The military use would be limited to applying for grants.
    If the Wyss Institute is funding the adaptation of biological structures to technology, they should ask for a refund. There is success in miniaturization, but if the power and control is external, the total size of the system has to be considered- and that would include the power supply, control, and the person operating- it's a 100kg system. Overall, an unrefined and almost comically limited concept, inappropriately described.
    What a technological breakthrough- wire control and external power supply one-hundred fourteen years after Tesla's radio-controlled boat!
    Cute as hell though!
    BB
  • 0 Hide
    bambiboom , May 6, 2013 5:24 AM
    RE: My previous comment >
    _Upon review, I realized that in my previous comment I made dismissive and semi-sarcastic comments concerning long-term, considered research and a design of which I can not have full understanding from the article and accompanying video. My poor excuse is that the emphasis of the article and importance of the work was skewed by the application of the terms "robot" and "insect" that were probably used for non-scientific description in a wider media. I would like to offer my apologies for the tone of these inappropriate, non-constructive comments.
    _This is in fact a very stimulating concept, and of course it was necessary to immediately fuss out a design- home insectibotics design is fun!
    BB
  • 0 Hide
    Pailin , May 8, 2013 3:49 AM
    Thanks for the source Zeppelingcdm.
    Personally I am someone who likes to look ahead to what is possible, stretching the bounds of scientific and spiritual reality.
    But I find it hard to put too much weight in the words taken from a Dan Brown thriller after his previous works, which purported to possibly be the truth were found to be works of fiction with links to the truth enough to make lend some credence.
    (I have not read and see no reason to read any of this books, though my own father showed great interest in the past)
    I have a great interest in remote control toys like my Align T-Rex 600 top of the line electric RC helicopter (at least it was when i got it a few years back). While it can fly in beautiful ways I never dreamed possible (search you tube "Trex 600 amazing tricks" for a Great example) it has a relatively short flight time.
    So I am Always on the lookout for more advanced power storage in scientific articles.
    Right now there is a small UK company making some Advanced Hydrogen Fuel cells that would be capable of powering such a helicopter, if not at max power levels.
    For now, our power storage density is too low and our motors are relatively primitive to our needs.
    Big private companies all over the world are researching this stuff, the 1st ones to get ahead (often with bigger budgets than Gov. R&D can afford for such research) will be set to make a Lot of $
  • 0 Hide
    Pailin , May 8, 2013 6:06 AM
    Thanks for the source Zeppelingcdm.
    Personally I am someone who likes to look ahead to what is possible, stretching the bounds of scientific and spiritual reality.
    But I find it hard to put too much weight in the words taken from a Dan Brown thriller after his previous works, which purported to possibly be the truth were found to be works of fiction with links to the truth enough to make lend some credence.
    (I have not read and see no reason to read any of this books, though my own father showed great interest in the past)
    I have a great interest in remote control toys like my Align T-Rex 600 top of the line electric RC helicopter (at least it was when i got it a few years back). While it can fly in beautiful ways I never dreamed possible (search you tube "Trex 600 amazing tricks" for a Great example) it has a relatively short flight time.
    So I am Always on the lookout for more advanced power storage in scientific articles.
    Right now there is a small UK company making some Advanced Hydrogen Fuel cells that would be capable of powering such a helicopter, if not at max power levels.
    For now, our power storage density is too low and our motors are relatively primitive to our needs.
    Big private companies all over the world are researching this stuff, the 1st ones to get ahead (often with bigger budgets than Gov. R&D can afford for such research) will be set to make a Lot of $
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