Flying Microbots that can Hitchhike on Birds, Butterflies

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Hitchhiking Robots

Scientists from Harvard University have developed flying microbots known as RoboBee that can use static electricity to hitchhike on bats, birds or butterflies for conserving energy during long duration flights.

“Many applications for small drones require them to stay in the air for extended periods,” said Moritz Graule, first author of the research paper that was published in the Science magazine. “Unfortunately, smaller drones run out of energy quickly. We want to keep them aloft longer without requiring too much additional energy,” he added. The team thus looked at nature and found inspiration.

“A lot of different animals use perching to conserve energy, but the methods they use to perch, such as sticky adhesives or latching with talons, are inappropriate for a paperclip-size microrobot, as they either require intricate systems with moving parts or high forces for detachment,” said co-author Kevin Ma. The team therefore turned to electrostatic adhesion. “In our system, a small amount of energy is constantly supplied to maintain the attraction,” said Kevin. The RoboBee uses an electrode patch and foam to absorb shock. When the patch is supplied with a charge, it can stick to almost any surface, from glass to wood to a leaf. The power supply can be switched off to simply detach the RoboBee.

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