This is a super tiny four-winged robotic insect called Bee+ (right in the photo above) developed by University of Southern California (USC) School of Engineering’s Autonomous Microrobotic Systems Laboratory (AMSL). It is a testament of the technological advancement and also an engineering marvel. But not to worry. You won’t find one of these spying on you any time soon.
While we did said it was a “testament of the technological advancement and also an engineering marvel,” there’s no battery technology could support it if it wants to remain so small and so lightweight. B+ isn’t the first of its kind (by ‘kind’, we meant robotic insect). Previously, Harvard’s WYSS Institute developed an autonomous flying microbot called RoboBee (2013).
However, it had limitations. RoboBee’s flight was enabled by two flapping wings powered by onboard actuators, but the power of the actuators just wasn’t enough for it to control the yawing and thus, it sort of “waggles” quite uncontrollably. B+, on the other hand, not only has four wings to enable better control in flight, it is also employs actuators (known as twinned unimorph actuators) that has much lighter and more efficient than those that were used on the RoboBee.
The result is a little robotic insect that can perch, land, follow a path and even avoid obstacles. Though it weighs more than the RoboBee, it has a lot less wing-load since it has 2 pairs of wings. While it sounds pretty livid, Bee+ suffers from the same shortfall as RoboBee (and pretty much tiny flyers). It had to be tethered to pipe electrical energy to it. It is suffice to say that the development of B+ is only as good as the power source available at that time.
If there is no lightweight and somewhat lasting battery to let it fly untethered, it will be just good for the lab. Even there is a battery that is lightweight enough, it will add significant amount of weight with respect to its scale and so, for that hypothetical scenario, the researches will have reduce the size and weight of B+ by way, way more to enable it to fly and still remain ‘insect-size’. Have a look at Bee+ in action in the video HERE or read the papers published by the researchers.
Images: USC AMSL.
Source: MIT Technology Review.