After over a decade of work, researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have succeeded in creating a miniature robot that can fly, Fast Company reported. Dubbed RoboBee, the robotic bee, inspired by the biology of a bee and its hive behavior, can be used to combat the decline of real bees and autonomously pollinate crops. But there are many other uses for the tiny flying robot.
Besides pollination, the robotic bee could be used in search and rescue missions following a natural disaster, it can be used to explore hazardous environments, for military surveillance, weather and climate mapping and traffic monitoring.
RoboBee's researchers note that these applications are similar to those of other autonomous robots. But since these robotic bees mimic their real life counterparts by coordinating in large numbers, they are able to carry out these tasks more efficiently.
These tiny winged robots are imbued with both the biomechanics and social organization of bees, making their behavior very bee-like. The robotic bees will even live in a hive, which acts as a refueling station, iO9 reported. Algorithms are being devised so that the robotic bees will be able to communicate and coordinate with one another.
Fast Company noted that RoboBee is not that only miniature flying robot in existence, but at 80 milligrams and the size of a quarter, this robot is one of the smallest. This meant that the team had to innovate many of the parts for the robotic bee, since there were no parts small enough available.
"There were no motors small enough, no sensors that could fit on board. The microcontrollers, the microprocessors - everything had to be developed fresh," Harvard professor Robert Wood, the engineering team lead for the project told Fast Company.
The next challenges are getting a battery small enough for the robotic bees. And making them more durable for commercial use, meaning that we are still many years away before we could be under attack by a horde of robotic bees.
Another robotic insect project is the robotic fire ant study led by scientists at Georgia Tech. The Georgia Tech scientist are looking at the tunneling habits of fire ants to help engineers build better search-and-rescue robots. Fire ants' nests are complex structures that can hold up to 100,000 individual ants but can be evacuated extremely quickly if the nest floods, which is a common occurrence.