A Soft Robotic Insect That Survives The Fly Swatter

Swarms of robotic insects incapable of being swatted away may no longer be the product of science fiction and Black Mirror episodes. A team from EPFL’s School of Engineering has developed an insect propelled at 3 cm/s, dubbed the DEAnsect.

What makes this robot unique is its exceptional robustness. Two versions of the robot were initially developed, one tethered with ultra-thin wires capable of being squashed with a shoe without impacting its functions and the second fully wireless and autonomous. The robot weighs less than 1 gram and is equipped with a microcontroller and photodiodes to recognize black and white patterns.

The insect is named for its dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs), an artificial muscle that propels it with vibrations and enables it to move lightly and quickly.

The DEAs are made of an elastomer membrane wedged between soft electrodes that are attracted to each other when a voltage is applied, compressing the membrane. The membrane returns to its original shape when the voltage is turned off. Movement is generated by switching the voltage on and off over 400 times per second. The team reduced the thickness of the membranes and developed soft, highly conductive electrodes only several molecules thick using nanofabrication techniques. They plan on fitting even more sensors and emitters to allow the insects to communicate directly with one another for greater swarm-like activity.

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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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Robotic Cockroach Built By Russian University

It’s name is Blaberus Cranifer, or Death’s Head for short. Light has now been shed on this once secret project built by the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University for a “vague” Russian organization. The little guy has a 20 minute battery life and can carry a 10 gram payload. Which comes in handy when you want to sneak a camera into hard to reach places. Other requirements were for it to look and behave like a real live insect.

It’s an impressive project considering it was built from scratch in only seven months time. Its intricate gears and other mechanical features would require the hands of a skilled watch maker to construct. Alternatively, one can control live insects such as controlling a roach’s brain or hooking up some radio controls to a live beetle. But building robotic insects is still pretty cool.

Be sure to check out the well made video detailing some of the project’s build process.

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