Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Can Tiny Robot Bees Do for Us?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Can Tiny Robot Bees Do for Us?

Article excerpt

Robots today can do almost anything, it seems, but the latest development in microbot technology may be surprising: the ability to take a break.

Scientists at Harvard and MIT have developed robot technology that uses static electricity to allow tiny bee-like drones, or micro aerial vehicles, to perch on objects, according to a new article published in Science.

The tiny RoboBee, pioneered at the Harvard Microrobotics Lab, can perch on a variety of surfaces using electrostatic adhesion. Just as newly tumble-dried clothes cling to each other, the RoboBee uses the science of positive and negative electric charges to cling to surfaces such as ledges and trees. Once it is perched, the RoboBee clicks off its propeller wings, saving its energy and increasing the length of its mission.

Although seemingly insignificant, longer battery lives could have serious implications for other scientific and robotic fields. Researchers say that the RoboBee's perching technology could advance the field of microrobotics and its range of applications when exploring the depths of land and sea deemed unsafe for humans to travel.

"A lot of different animals use perching to conserve energy," said Harvard researcher and paper co-author Kevin Ma, PhD, in a press release. "But the methods they use to perch, like sticky adhesives or latching with talons, are inappropriate for a paperclip- size microrobot, as they either require intricate systems with moving parts or high forces for detachment."

Unlike perchers found in nature, the RoboBee's abilities are supplied by an electrode patch that, when charged, allows the robot to rest on surfaces like glass and organic material, such as plants.

Perching could significantly increase the lifespan of these tiny microrobot batteries, using about 1,000 times less energy than they would expend while hovering.

At just 100 mg, the tiny RoboBee is lifesize to an actual insect. …

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