MIT: Robots as small as insects arrive
Technological progress never ceases to amaze us, and this time it does so by offering us a mini robot capable of flying like an insect.
The invention comes from MIT researchers, who have created a mini robot capable of flying and which is much more agile and impact resistant than previous models.
It is not the first time we have seen flying objects. We are already used to drones, from professional ones to children’s toy drones. However, it’s not that simple to make a drone the size of an insect and with its own agility.
Yet a team of MIT researchers has succeeded, under the leadership of Kevin Chen, a Harvard graduate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) under the supervision of Professor Robert J. Wood. His work focuses precisely on the development of robots as small as insects, capable of transiting between air, land and water.
While common drones need ample space to move, as they lack agility and impact resistance, the robot made by Chen, about the size of a hornet and weighing about half a gram, has proven to be able to fly in very small spaces and to withstand bumps and gusts of wind, like a real insect. This is possible because these drones have wings that reach 500 beats per second and that move thanks to special rubber actuators, covered with a layer of nanoparticles. The 500 beats allow the drone to heal if hit or involved in a collision.
A very slight electric current is enough for the actuator to contract causing the drone’s wings to lower. On the other hand, when the current is turned off, the actuator relaxes by lowering the wing. By adjusting the current pulse, it is possible to make the robot’s wings vibrate.
This drone is certainly sturdy and agile, but it is also soft, and it is this characteristic that allows it to bounce without suffering damage if it collides with other entities.
Currently the robot has the appearance of a simple rectangular box, but Chen’s plan is to make a version that has the appearance of a dragonfly.
The staff said they expect their work to be applied in various sectors, such as inspections, surgery and environmental monitoring. Other uses could occur in swarms for the pollination of large crops.
A further goal of the researchers is to create a battery small and light enough to allow the robot insect to fly without the need for power supply wires, unlike drones on the market today.