Researchers at Wyss Institute at Harvard University say they have created a tiny bot, called RoboBee, that can fly, hover like a bumble-bee and nail a landing and take off again. RoboBee is 10 millimeters (about the size of a marble) with four pin-like legs and shimmery flapping wings. It’s powered by a quarter-sized electrostatically charged pad on its head.
The charge pad is sticky on one side which researchers say lets RoboBee stick to elevated perches.
According to the researchers who published a paper on RoboBee in Science, when it comes to robots, flying hasn’t been the problem, it’s the landing that’s been the challenge. Maintaining a high vantage point for an extended time is crucial in many applications but scaling on-board power down and mechanical fatigue constrain a smaller, battery-powered bot’s flight time. Researchers turned to the perching nature of insects to resolve these limitations.
The process they came up with is simple. Turn on the electrodes and the charge disc helps RoboBee hang on an overhanging structure, like a leaf or a branch. Turn off the electrodes and RoboBee detaches and can fly again, or hover, depending on what it needs to do. The sticky charge pad lets RoboBee rest between flights and researchers found it used about a thousandth as much energy perching than hovering.