Hear that buzzing next to your ear? Don’t be so quick to flick next time, as it might not be a bug — it may be a bug-sized robot.
The RoboBee, which is known as the world’s small flying robot, flew for the first time in a recently released video.
A group at Harvard built the robot. Graduate student Kevin Ma studied insect wings in order to build those that keep the RoboBee afloat, according to Science. The whole robot is the size of a quarter with wings made of carbon-fiber material and polymer film that are cut using a laser.
Ma explained that the wings have a specific “pop-up” pattern that resembles those in a children’s book. They help the wings stay as symmetrical as possible for flight. These pop-ups require a human using tweezers to raise, but eventually they will automatically open.
Tiny insect robots have the opportunity to play a big role in search and rescue or disaster situations. They can squeeze through tight spaces, say in the case of fallen rubble, or discretely collect information in hostage situations. With the right kind of sensors or cameras onboard, they could possibly detect gas leaks or find people in places that current cameras (or even eyes) can’t see.
The Harvard group is trying to go beyond just flight as well. They hope to build thousands of these bug-bots, according to Scientific American. It’d be a hive of robot bees that are spatially aware and can divvy up tasks and work as a group. This breakthrough is really just the beginning of a long journey toward an army capable of executing missions.
For now, however, the robot is tethered to a power supply and flight sensors by a small wire, greatly reducing its usability. Ma hopes to install the technological components on RoboBee before he graduates.