Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a tiny wireless robot that could be useful in a number of scenarios, such as assisting in search and rescue missions, simplifying the inspection of infrastructure and accelerating pollination.
Inspired by winged insects and weighing just 74mg, RoboFly is able to fly through the air, walk over land and drift on water. It is fitted with thin hinges of plastic in its carbon fibre body.
It is equipped with balanced control system commands that give the rotational motions of its wings – each wing is controlled independently in real-time and flaps at a rate of 170 times per second.
Yogesh Chukewad, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told TechXplore: “Currently, most insect-size robots are built under a microscope, assembled carefully by hand, as they have many separate microscopic parts.”
He added: “If you accidentally drop a part the size of a sesame seed in a busy lab, you’re never going to see it again!”
Presented in a paper pre-published on arXiv, Robofly was built using fewer components than a normal insect sized robot, thereby simplifying the construction process.
The design of RoboFly’s chassis is simple by design and is made from a single folded laminate sheet, this means there is no need for many microscopic parts.
With the chassis lower and closer to the ground, the bot can perform three types of locomotion. The team behind the device, which is an adaption of RoboBee, say it is more effective than current models because its different types of locomotion enable it to avoid obstacles.
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“RoboFly makes use of its two flapping wings driven by piezoelectric actuators to fly and hover, like some insects do,” Chukewad explained.
“It can also move and steer on the ground by making use of the same set of flapping wings. Because of its light-weight property, if modified with a set of three foot-like appendages it can land on water surfaces. Once it landed, the robot can then move and steer on water using the same principle that is used to move on the ground.
“Now that we ascertained that RoboFly can perform multi-modal locomotion, our next objective will be to use it as a tool to better understand the behaviour of its biological counterparts.”