Science 3 min read

Wireless Flying Insect Robot Takes its First Flight

The insect robot, RoboFly | University of Washington

The insect robot, RoboFly | University of Washington

Researchers from the University of Washington reportedly found a way to launch their flying insect robot.

Ever since UAVs were applied to military and civilian tasks, engineers have tried to send tiny robotic drones flying. However, installing a power source to a wing-flapping insect robot has been the more challenging if stranger goal.

Recently, however, a team of researchers from the University of Washington solved a big problem with their tiny flying insect drone. The team devised a way to transmit power to their miniscule robot with lasers.

Dubbed as RoboFly, the team’s findings will be presented at this year’s International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Brisbane, Australia this coming May 23rd.

“Before now, the concept of wireless insect-sized flying robots was science fiction,” Sawyer Fuller, an assistant professor at the University of Washington and co-author of the study, said in a statement“Would we ever be able to make them work without needing a wire? Our new wireless RoboFly shows they’re much closer to real life.”

Read More: The Latest Update on Drone Technology and Regulation

While the innovation seems like a tiny fluttering for the insect robot, it is considered a giant leap for robot-kind.

The insect-inspired mini-drone is powered by a narrow, invisible laser beam which is focused on an onboard photovoltaic cell that turns light energy into electricity. While the electricity is not sufficient enough to power the wings of the robot on its own, the team added a circuit to help boost the power from mere seven volts to 240 volts.

“It was the most efficient way to quickly transmit a lot of power to RoboFly without adding much weight,” Shyam Gollakota, one of the researchers and co-author of the study, said.

What’s even better is that they were able to add a micro-controller that acts as a brain to the same circuit.

“The micro-controller acts like a real fly’s brain telling wing muscles when to fire,” Vikram Iyer, co-author of the study, said. “On RoboFly, it tells the wings things like ‘flap hard now’ or ‘don’t flap.'”

“It uses pulses to shape the wave,” Johannes James, the lead author of the study and a mechanical engineering doctoral student, explained. “To make the wings flap forward swiftly, it sends a series of pulses in rapid succession and then slows the pulsing down as you get near the top of the wave. And then it does this in reverse to make the wings flap smoothly in the other direction.”

At the moment, RoboFly can only take off and land. Future versions of the insect robot reportedly include tiny batteries or an energy harvester which uses frequency signals.

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Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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