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Check Out the World's Smallest Flying Robot Insect

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:

  • DarkSable
    My first reaction: "Oh my god it's adorable and I want one."
  • edgewood112358
    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...
  • xalted
    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.
  • Zeppelingcdm
    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.
  • velocityg4
    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.
  • Pailin
    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!
  • Stephen Kong
    Assassin drone shooting poison darts.
  • Zeppelingcdm
    @ 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.
  • bit_user
    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!
  • bambiboom
    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!