Robotic insect takes first flight, barely weighs more than grain of rice

By on May 3, 2013, 11:30 AM

Researchers toiling away in a Harvard University lab have developed what is said to be the world's most miniscule, guided, flying robot. Weighing just under three thousandths of an ounce, RoboBee with its 3cm wingspan borrows heavily from real flying insects -- particularly flies -- to become airborne.

One of the primary enigmas RoboBee posed to researchers was how to build electromechanical components both truly tiny and capable of sustaining flight. The device required parts that were too fine for traditional mechanisms like gears and pistons; RoboBee was also too small for most common silicon-based components, as well.

Instead, the team developed its own techniques to produce teensy weensy electromechanical components. Harvard researchers coined these parts as SCMs, or smart composite microstructures and they are derived from strong and ultra-light carbon composites. 

"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." one researcher noted. He later added, "This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12 years".

RoboBee's ethereally-thin wings beat an astonishing 120 times per second. To achieve this feat, a specially designed ceramic-based piezoelectric material was used. The substance expands and contracts when voltage is applied and removed, mimicking how a real muscle might work. As an added bonus, the system provides the pint-sized insectdroid with astonishing maneuverability -- it can hover and make sudden changes in its position.

Before readers succumb to horrifying visions of a dystopian future where weaponized insect armies are saddled with high-tech surveillance equipment, it's important to know that this insect-inspired robot is still tethered to a wire for power. RoboBee is so small and so light, it likely can't support the weight of both a useful camera and battery pack. This also suggests we won't see laser cannons mounted on RoboBee in the immediate future. But with promising battery technologies lurking around the corner, its certainly not an impossibility. 

A "fully flying wireless robot" is a just "few more years" away, researchers project.




User Comments: 27

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Blkfx1 Blkfx1 said:

I was so hoping I could attach a cannon to Robobee :/

wiyosaya said:

Too bad there is no sound. It probably buzzes like a fly, too.

Ranger12 Ranger12 said:

Princeton or Harvard? The videos description suggests it was developed at Harvard and a quick search also returns many articles giving Harvard credit.

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

3" wingspan? No camera? Tethered? What the hell good is this thing if you can't fly it around in a ladies changeroom?

9Nails, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Looks like the power source is external. Insects still have the advantage over machine. There's a way to go before machine can match the insect. Which is quite a testament to life and how well it's designed.

Guest said:

This is a very scary thing. It is super cool right now but the potential for wide-scale mayhem from future generations of this type of miniscule device is very high.

Guest said:

I wanna use this thing to sneak around men's bathhouses! Add a little camera and I'll be getting pictures of men's dongs all day long!

(By the way, I'm a guy)

Skidmarksdeluxe Skidmarksdeluxe said:

Looks like the power source is external. Insects still have the advantage over machine. There's a way to go before machine can match the insect. Which is quite a testament to life and how well it's designed.

It's a remarkable feat of engineering but I'm afraid by the time we can really replicate real life insects (if we ever can) I'll be long gone.

Guest said:

3cm not 3inches

kderby42 said:

That little cord attached makes this not newsworthy.

Guest said:

That's alot of trouble to go to when the internet is already full of free gay porn

cuerdc said:

Can they not build bigger version petrol powered with a seat

1 person liked this | dms96960 said:

Pretty darn amazing, but I wonder how it is affected by Mortein?

JC713 JC713 said:

This is awesome. Here comes the robot invasion! lol.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I wanna use this thing to sneak around men's bathhouses! Add a little camera and I'll be getting pictures of men's dongs all day long!

(By the way, I'm a guy)

I'll give you a dong from my 4 foot 4x4. You ever watch the movie, Walking Tall?

Ranger12 Ranger12 said:

Movie got terrible reviews but I loved it.

Timonius Timonius said:

Was going to make a comment here, but now I'm not sure HOW it will be taken.

This thread needs some moderation... >.>

TS-56336 TS-56336 said:

Wow.. Very cool..

Also may ominously give more meaning to the phrase "a fly on the wall"....

1 person liked this | cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Movie got terrible reviews but I loved it.
I loved it too. I have no interest in listening to someones review, when they have nothing better to do than criticize a movie. Seriously what are they comparing the movie to when they cast a vote? Do they want every movie to be viewed as identical art?

Anyway back to the mechanical fly. Why must everything be contaminated with perversion? Use a little discretion people, some thoughts should not be spoken publicly. With more and more of these comments being allowed on TS, the less I want to be here. I try to be a good sport and join in from time to time, but thats not who I am. I come here to read about tech, not some trashy fantasy someone has about using the tech.

VitalyT VitalyT said:

This needs a weightless power supply. I haven't heard of one...

JC713 JC713 said:

This needs a weightless power supply. I haven't heard of one...

there are other ways of creating energy...they may not be cheap though

VitalyT VitalyT said:

there are other ways of creating energy...they may not be cheap though

Sometimes the price is everything. If it wasn't that expensive to produce anti-matter, we would have rockets based on that in a jiffy and do weekend shopping on Mars

Other than that, I hate insects, nasty little buggers...

JC713 JC713 said:

Yeah lol! But yeah, I dont know how economical these little minions are.

1 person liked this | captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I wanna use this thing to sneak around men's bathhouses! Add a little camera and I'll be getting pictures of men's dongs all day long!

(By the way, I'm a guy)

Said "Guest"! Meanwhile, captaincranky blurts out , "sir, I'll neither pick up the soap, nor tie my shoes for your pleasure, as he prudently slides a phone book down the back of his pants....! :eek:

Guest said:

This is kinda cool. :D

Finally, we see what the mens rooms look like!

LOL :p[image link]

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I wanna use this thing to sneak around men's bathhouses! Add a little camera and I'll be getting pictures of men's dongs all day long!

(By the way, I'm a guy)

This is kinda cool.

Finally, we see what the mens rooms look like!

I imagine they look very similar to women's bathrooms with two exceptions. First, they're painted blue instead of pink. And second, all the toilet seats in the men's rooms, would all be left up.

Myself, I won't use public bathrooms, too many "guests" around.:eek:

Now why don't you two "buzz off"?

Lamont Briggs said:

I watched an entire video on this technology. Pretty awesome, and yet weirdly creepy, all at the same time. Soon we'll have to wonder if the bugs landing on us are real, or programmed.

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