Robotic Insect [Update]: Hovering Robot to Change U.S. History, Initiated from Scratch

  • May, 03, 2013, 08:50 PM

robotic insect

(Photo : scientificamerica )


Scientists in the US have created a robot the size of a fly with wing designs based on real houseflies. The manufacture was inspired by origami, which is able to perform the agile manoeuvres of the global insects.

This "robo-fly", unveiled by robotics researchers on Thursday, built from carbon fiber, weighs a fraction of a gram and has super-fast electronic "muscles" to power its wings. It can hover in air, flapping its wings to steer in a first demonstration of controlled artificial-insect flight.

The robot with its thin and flexible wings beat approximately 120 times every second- with each stroke covering an angle of 110 degrees - all comparable to a hoverfly's characteristics. Each of the two independently controlled wings weighs about .00003 of an ounce.

Check this out-insects make their first controlled flight

The pioneering work of a group of researchers at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences led to the development of the RoboBee that can navigate through tiny spaces in collapsed buildings.

After years of work, the group has finally unveiled video footage of RoboBee

robotic insect
(Photo : scientificamerica )


Journal Science explains the complete development.

Dr. Kevin Ma from Harvard University and his team, led by Dr. Robert Wood, say they have come up with the world's smallest flying robot.

Developed from scratch

Harvard graduate student Kevin Ma, at first, starts layering carbon fiber material and polymer film into a flat sheet, and then cuts a design into the sheet using a laser. Therefore, the carbon-fiber composites with thin plastic strips serve as joints.  Finally, they built the hoverfly want to-be that weighs a scant .003 ounces. The team designed its muscles from thin layers of ceramics that expand and contract when electricity is applied to them.

In fact, the team "had to develop solutions from scratch, for everything," said Wood, in a prepared statement, according to CS Monitor.

The design includes 2D pattern in a 3D shape in which the different parts fold together. At present, Ma made the final changes with tweezers under a microscope, but Ma hopes that eventually the whole robot will pop up all at once in a programmed process.

The bug's overall power consumption is a paltry .019 of a watt -as negligible as a flashlight bulb would not notice.

Over the past two years, the team has refined the development process to such a degree that they can replace a bug that augers in quickly. In the past six months, the team has gone through 20 prototypes, according to Kevin Ma.

"It was an amazing feeling of having all of this hard work suddenly bear fruit," Ma says, according to Science Mag. Wood calls it their "Kitty Hawk moment."

The purpose of the RoboBee development

There is a huge fall in the honeybee population due to mysterious affliction called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which began to wipe out honeybee hives. These bees control most commercial pollination in the U.S., and their loss creates low production of crops due to low rate of pollination. In 2009, teams of Harvard and Northeastern University scientists considered seriously to create a robotic bee colony. Now these teams worked on a swarm of tiny RoboBees- flying-bee size robots- that could pollinate flowers and do the job of real bees if needed.

According to Inhaitat, "In 2009 the three of us began to seriously consider what it would take to create a robotic bee colony," the team leaders told Scientific America.

"We wondered if mechanical bees could replicate not just an individual's behavior but the unique behavior that emerges out of interactions among thousands of bees. We have now created the first RoboBees-flying bee-size robots-and are working on methods to make thousands of them cooperate like a real hive," they added.

Objectives of RoboBee Project

RoboBees size presents a huge variety of physical and computational trials. The bees, to power and control flight, must employ specially designed artificial muscles to overcome their inefficient motors and bearings.

robotic insect
(Photo : scientificamerica )


In addition, these tiny bees must have freedom to think and act, using miniature sensors.

The biomimicking scheme, also known as the Micro Air Vehicles Project, aims to "push advances in miniature robotics and the design of compact high-energy power sources; spur innovations in ultra-low-power computing and electronic 'smart' sensors; and refine coordination algorithms to manage multiple, independent machines".

Like real bees, RoboBees will work best when employed as swarms of thousands of individuals, coordinating their actions without relying on a single leader. The hive must be spirited enough so that the group can complete its objectives even if many bees fail.

Moreover, scientists can use RoboBees for search, rescue, or hazardous environment exploration such as a nuclear disaster sites, high-resolution weather and climate mapping and traffic monitoring, pinpoint enemy soldiers and terrorists holed up in urban areas.

While the present model of robo-fly is chained to a small, off-board power source, the next step will be to develop the other bits of technology that will be necessary to create a "fully wireless flying robot", says Dr. Ma, according to BBC News.

"It will be a few more years before full integration is possible," he said. "Until then, this research project continues to be very captivating work because of its similarity to natural insects. It is a demonstration of how far human engineering ingenuity has reached, to be mimicking natural systems."

"The physics of flight at such small scales is relatively poorly understood which makes designing small flying systems very difficult," said Dr. Jon Dyhr, a biologist from the University of Washington who also studies insect flight, according to BBC News.

These impressive feats of engineering design our own artificial flyers.

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