Harvard’s Microrobotic Lab Sinks RoboBees and Claims it was on Purpose

What do you call tiny flying robots that undoubtedly emit a buzzing noise as they pass by? Mosquitoes are universally hated, as are wasps, so the logical name is RoboBees.

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has been cooking up these extremely impressive tiny robots in their Microrobotics lab. The swarms use piezoelectric actuators to produce the mechanical force to drive the wings, which can be independently controlled.This isn’t the first time we’ve looked in on the Robobees, but the most recent news revealed the ability to swim, and dive (term used generously) into water.

This may not sound like much, but previously the robots lacked the ability to break the surface tension of water. To sink, the wings need a coating of surfactant. Once submerged, the bots lack the ability to transition back from water to air. But we won’t be surprised to see that ability added as a feature while the scope of the project continues to creep. So yes, you can jump into water to escape bees but not to escape Robobees.

Diving isn’t the only wonder to behold. The ‘head’ of the RoboBee is utterly fascinating. It’s constructed by folding the PCB into a pyramid like structure, 4 sides of the head include a photo-transistor covered by a diffused lens which the bot uses for self positioning by sensing changes between the bright light of the sky and absence thereof below the horizon. This concept is taken directly from biological self-righting systems found on the head of most insects, however Harvard’s version has one more sensor than the stock 3 seen on insects. Take that, nature!

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Mind-controlling cockroaches

Producing micro robotics is not yet easy or cost-effective, but why do we need to when we can just control the minds of cockroaches? A team or researchers from North Carolina State University is calling this augmented Madagascar Hissing cockroach an Insect Biobot in their latest research paper (PDF). It’s not the first time the subject has come up. There have already been proofs in research and even more amateur endeavors. But the accuracy and control seen in the video after the break is beyond compare.

The roach is being controlled to perfectly follow a line on the floor. One of the things that makes this iteration work so well is that the microcontroller includes a new type of ADC-based feedback loop for the stimulation of the insect brain. This helps to ensure that the roach will not grow accustom to the stimulation and stop responding to it. Since this variety of insect can live for about two years, this breakthrough makes it into a reusable tool. We’re not sure what that tool will be used for, but perhaps the next plague of insects will be controlled by man, and not mother nature.

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