Once upon a time, Harvard University wowed the world with a micro autonomous flying robot called RoboBee. Then, USC School of Engineering one up it with a 4-winged robotic insect called Bee+ and now, Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory came back at Bee+ with its under-a-gram 4-winged robotic flying insect that can fly tether-free – thanks to its onboard six tiny solar cells. Each solar cell located above the wings weighs mere 10 milligrams each.
RoboBee X-Wing, as it is called, sports four wings that flap 170 times a second and weighs in at just 259 milligrams. It is super tiny too, measuring just 3.5 centimeters across and stands 6.5 centimeters tall. The wings work much like Bee+. Each wing behaves like muscle that contract when voltage passes through them, thus enabling the flapping action. Now, the highlight here is clearly the solar power which the insect robot depends on to fly.
The caveat is, it requires three times the intensity of natural sunlight and therefore, a specially setup artificial lighting is required for it to fly. In other words, it will be a while before it can fly under the light of Mother Nature’s, but it is a start.
Flying under natural sunlight is one of the goal, along with the incorporation of sensing mechanisms that would grant it the ability to control what it’s doing when flying around. If you keen, you can read in depth on Harvard’s untethered flight of an insect-sized flapping-wing microscope aerial vehicle in a paper published on Nature. Hit the jump to see RoboBee X-Wing in action.