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RoboBee (Image 3)

RoboBee


Inspired by the biology of a fly, the RoboBee has submillimeter-scale anatomy and two wafer-thin wings that flap almost invisibly, 120 times per second. The tiny device not only represents the absolute cutting edge of micromanufacturing and control systems; it is an aspiration that has impelled innovation in these fields by dozens of researchers across Harvard for years. [Image 3 of 3 related images. Back to Image 1.]

More about this image
The demonstration of the first controlled flight of an insect-sized robot was the culmination of more than a decade's work, led by researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and Wyss.

The tiny robot flaps its wings with piezoelectric actuators—strips of ceramic that expand and contract when an electric field is applied. Thin hinges of plastic embedded within the carbon fiber body frame serve as joints, and a delicately balanced control system commands the rotational motions in the flapping-wing robot, with each wing controlled independently in real-time.

Potential applications of the RoboBee project could include distributed environmental monitoring, search-and-rescue operations or assistance with crop pollination, but the materials, fabrication techniques and components that emerge along the way might prove to be even more significant.

Read more about this research in the Harvard news story Robotic insects make first controlled flight. (Date image taken: May 2013; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Oct. 19, 2017)

Credit: Photos courtesy of Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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