News / Science & Technology

Robotic Fly Mimics Real Life Insect

With a tiny carbon fiber body and wings made of thin plastic sheets, this robotic fly was inspired by the way real insects move. The wings are controlled by a minuscule flight muscle or ‘actuator’ that drives wing movement when a voltage is applied. (By the Wood lab)
With a tiny carbon fiber body and wings made of thin plastic sheets, this robotic fly was inspired by the way real insects move. The wings are controlled by a minuscule flight muscle or ‘actuator’ that drives wing movement when a voltage is applied. (By the Wood lab)
Rosanne Skirble
A team of engineers at Harvard University has taken cues from Nature to create the first robotic fly. The mechanical bug has become a platform for a suite of new high-tech integrated systems.  

A team of engineers designed a robot to do what a fly does naturally. The tiny machine is the size of a fat housefly. It’s agile and fast. Its miniature flapping wings allow it to hover in place and perform controlled flight maneuvers.

“It’s extremely important for us to think about this as a whole system and not just the sum of a bunch of individual parts," said  Robert Wood.

Harvard engineering professor Robert Wood has been working on the robotic fly project for over a decade. A few years ago, his team at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering got the go-ahead to start piecing together the components.  

“The added difficulty with a project like this is that literally none of those components are off the shelf and so we have to develop them all from scratch," he said.
Robotic Fly Mimics Real Life Insect
Robotic Fly Mimics Real Life Insecti
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

They engineered a propulsion system with wings, tiny actuators to drive the wings, and a mechanism to maintain proper wing alignment.

“The seemingly simple system which just flaps the wings has a number of interdependencies on the individual components, each of which individually has to perform well, but then  has to be matched well to everything it’s connected to," said Wood.

The flight apparatus was integrated into a set of power, computation, sensing and control systems. Wood says the success of the project proves that the flying robot with these miniaturized components can be built and manufactured.
    
While this prototype robotic flyer is tethered to a small, off-board power source, the goal is eventually to make it autonomous, so that it might someday perform surveillance and data- gathering work at rescue sites, in farmers’ fields or on the battlefield.  

“Otherwise the fly is totally unconstrained. Basically it can take off, land and fly around," he said.

Wood says the design offers a new way to study flight mechanics and control at insect-scale. Yet, the power, sensing and computation technologies on board could have much broader applications.  

“You can start thinking about using them to answer open scientific questions, you know, to study biology in ways that would be difficult with the animals, but instead using these robots," he said. "So there’s a host of technologies and open interesting scientific questions that are really what drives us on a day to day basis.”  

Wood says that while he finds real flies to be annoying little bugs, curiosity and awe at their mechanics inspired his design.  He and his colleagues describe their work in an article in this week’s edition of the journal Science.

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid