Inspired by the biology of a fly, with submillimeter-scale anatomy and two wafer-thin wings that flap at 120 times per second, robotic insects, or RoboBees, achieve vertical takeoff, hovering, and steering. The tiny robots flap their wings using piezoelectric actuators — strips of ceramic that expand and contract when an electric field is applied. Thin hinges of plastic embedded within a 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. Applications of RoboBees could include distributed environmental monitoring, search-and-rescue operations, and assistance with crop pollination.
Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University