Meet RoboBee, the first microbot to swim and fly and the brainchild of the engineering team with the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
The name gives only part of the tricks away. RoboBee is capable of using its insect-inspired wings to fly. However, the greatest treat is that it’s also capable of swimming, much like puffins, another animal-kingdom born inspiration for the brainy world of robotics.
Looking at the puffin species, the SEAS engineers understood that what RoboBee needs to be able to perform both aquatic and aerial actions is a different flapping of the wings. Puffins, seabirds which graciously dive in the water hunting for their meals and spend some time in the aquatic environment, only modify their flapping as they take to the air.
As such, the paper clip-sized microbot was endowed with a modified flapping technique. RoboBee could already fly. But placing it in water resulted in nothing more than broken wings and sinking.
Learning from the puffin species, the engineers modelled the flying and swimming of the seabirds and used experiments, computing and their theoretical knowledge to reach one conclusion. Puffins switch from flying to swimming simply by altering the speed and the frequency at which their wings flap.
Thus, the same modified flapping technique was applied to RoboBee. RoboBee is rather simple in structure. However, it is an astonishing microbot for now being able to perform both operations.
RoboBee is created from layers of carbon fiber, carefully laser-cut. The layers are connected with the help of embedded plastic. Its wings are powered by piezoelectric actuators, that move the wings of the microbot with 120 beats per second. The source is external and is connected to the mechanism through a wire tether.
Overall, RoboBee the first microbot to swim and fly measures under the size of a paper clip. It is only 80 mg heavy. Which comes as a drawback for the microbot. In order to be able to swim, it has to first sink in its aquatic environment, only to resurface and start swimming.
As such, deionized water and switching off the power source were a must during the experimental phases. Now, RoboBee is on train to see its insect wings coated and better insulation to protect its body.
Photo Credits: Inhabitat