Meet Harvard’s RoboBee microrobot, the lightest machine to ever take flight

Posted at 12:23 PM, Jun 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-27 14:23:25-04

Harvard University’s RoboBee has became the lightest vehicle to ever achieve sustained untethered flight, not requiring jumping or liftoff.

For nearly a decade, the little robot does look a little like a bee, has been tethered to a power source. That meant RoboBee, which weighs 259 milligrams and is a project in Harvard’s Microrobotics Lab, has never been able to have true freedom, and its flight has been limited.

But with this development, which was published this month in the journal Nature, that’s changing. And though the RoboBee still can’t fly outside yet, it could have a significant effect on commercial technology.

“Over the life of this project we have sequentially developed solutions to challenging problems, like how to build complex devices at millimeter scales, how to create high-performance millimeter-scale artificial muscles, bioinspired designs, and novel sensors, and flight control strategies,” said Robert Wood, one of the researchers involved in the project, in a statement.

The RoboBee needs the power of three suns to fly, but researchers are working to change that

This new iteration of the RoboBee relies on solar cells and an extra pair of wings to achieve the lift and power needed to fly on its own. But the RoboBee needs the power of about three Earth suns to fly, which is why outdoor flight isn’t possible at the moment. Researchers have instead been using halogen lights inside the lab.

Next, the group will be working on decreasing the power the RoboBee requires and adding on-board control to allow it to fly outside. Once these changes are made, the RoboBee could be significant in developing technology for areas such as surgery, assistance robots, and haptic communication devices, which helps users communicate with computers via touch.