Meet the Smallest Flying Robot: the RoboBee

RoboBee a tiny flying robot inspired by bees

Earlier this week, we talked about a bee habitat designed by Architecture students in Buffalo, and now we are bookending the week with more about bees and the design of the world’s smallest flying robot. But what do bees have to do with tiny flying robots? A team of science folk from Harvard has spent more than a decade trying to build a swarm of tiny, biomimetic robots that are inspired by the industrious insects. And if bee populations continue to decline, we may one day depend on buzzing swarms of these mechanical wonders to pollinate crops.

A recent paper lays out the progress of the robot’s fabrication and flight, but two major hurdles remain in the RoboBee’s flightpath. One hurdle is how to power the bee and the other is how to give it a digital brain small enough to keep the bee in flight. In the video above demonstrating RoboBee’s maneuvering capabilities, you can see that the current prototypes are still tethered to computers and power sources. Project leaders hope to cut the cord as the project develops, until they can create entirely autonomous colonies of these. It’s simultaneously frightening and exciting.

It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities. Imagine walking to your car and seeing a couple of these casually pollinating your azaleas. That’s neat. Or think of these robots helping locate missing people after a building collapse or natural disaster. At the same time, it’s frightening to wonder if these insects could evolve into something sinister. The complex feat of the RoboBee’s realization also creates complex questions about privacy and surveillance. Where with the flight of the RoboBee take us? Because I’m optimistic, I imagine it taking flight toward something like a technological wonderland and choosing not to believe that world will be constantly monitored by the world’s smallest drones.

May 10, 2013 / By