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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid