Incredible video reveals the tiny solar-powered ‘RoboBEE’ which flaps its wings 170 times a second to stay aloft and could be used to monitor the natural environment
- Researchers have built a new robot insect that is capable of untethered flight
- Weighing only 259 milligrams, the insect is light enough to land on leaves
- RoboBee X-WingIt uses solar panels situated over its wings to collect its power
- The six tiny solar cells weigh only 10 milligrams each and are located above the wings so as not to interfere with flight
A lightweight insect robot has been created which is capable of flying without being tethered to a power source, by using energy from light.
Incredible footage reveals the solar-powered RoboBee X-Wing which uses four wings which flap at a rate of 170 times per second to fly, instead of a propeller.
Developed by a team from Harvard University, the robot has a wingspan of 1.4 inches (3.5 centimetres) and could be used to monitor the environment.
Weighing only 259 milligrams, the insect is light enough to land on leaves and tiny enough to manoeuvre through small spaces.
Wings are far superior to propellers, but scientists have struggled to replicate the natural control that insects and birds.
HOW DO ROBO BEE’S SOLAR PANELS WORK?
The solar cells are connected to an electronics panel under the bee, which converts the low voltage signals of the solar array into high voltage drive signals needed to control the actuators.
The solar cells sit about three centimeters above the wings, to avoid interference.
In all, the final vehicle, with the solar cells and electronics, weights 259 milligrams (about a quarter of a paper clip) and uses about 120 milliwatts of power, which is less power than it would take to light a single bulb on a string of LED Christmas lights
Noah Jafferis and his colleagues suggest that if they can make wings work, the flying robots will be more agile and quieter than any other man-made machine.
RoboBee uses solar panels situated over its wings to collect its own power, removing the need for an external power source.
Its wings are controlled by two muscle-like plates that contract when voltage passes through the
The six tiny solar cells weigh only 10 milligrams each and are located above the wings so as not to interfere with flight.
However, the panels require an intense amount of light to power up, three times the strength of sunlight, which means outdoor flight is impossible at the moment.
RoboBee normally flies for around half a second before it flies out of the light.
Insect-based robots micro-engineered to mimic winged flight are not a new idea.
A lightweight insect robot is capable of flying without being tethered to a power source, by using energy from light. The solar-powered RoboBee X-WingIt and has four wings which flap at a rate of 170 times per second, instead of a propeller to take off
There have been previous iterations of insect robots, including older versions of the RoboBee, but they have all required been connected by a lead to a power source.
‘This is a result several decades in the making,’ said Professor Robert Wood, from Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS and principle investigator of the RoboBee project, in the study.
‘Powering flight is something of a Catch-22 as the trade-off between mass and power becomes extremely problematic at small scales where flight is inherently inefficient.
‘It doesn’t help that even the smallest commercially available batteries weigh much more than the robot.
‘We have developed strategies to address this challenge by increasing vehicle efficiency, creating extremely lightweight power circuits, and integrating high efficiency solar cells.’
Developed by a team from Harvard University, the robot has a wingspan of 3.5 centimetres and could be used to monitor the environment. Weighing only 259 milligrams, the insect is light enough to land on leaves and tiny enough to manoeuvre through small spaces
The team hopes the robot will be able to fly in regular sunlight, and have sensing mechanisms built in.
‘It can then really control what it’s doing when it’s flying around,’ said Noah Jafferis, who led the study.
‘It’s very light for its size, he says. ‘If you needed to land on a leaf, you could, whereas a commercial quadcopter would be too heavy to do that.’
The research is published in Nature.
HOW DOES THE ROBO BEE ACHIEVE FLIGHT WITHOUT POWER?
To achieve untethered flight, this latest iteration of the Robobee underwent several important changes, including the addition of a second pair of wings.
The change from two to four wings, along with less visible changes to the actuator and transmission ratio, made the vehicle more efficient, gave it more lift, and allowed us to put everything we need on-board without using more power, the team said.
The extra lift, with no additional power requirements, allowed the researchers to cut the power cord — which has kept the Robobee tethered for nearly a decade — and attach solar cells and an electronics panel to the vehicle.
The solar cells, the smallest commercially available, weigh 10 milligrams each and get 0.76 milliwatts per milligram of power when the sun is at full intensity.
The Robobee X-Wing needs the power of about three Earth suns to fly, making outdoor flight out of reach for now. Instead, the researchers simulate that level of sunlight in the lab with halogen lights.