Robobee: First Insect-like Robot That Can Swim And Fly

Posted: Oct 23 2015, 7:48pm CDT | by , Updated: Oct 23 2015, 7:56pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Robobee: First Insect-like Robot that Can Swim and Fly
Credit: SEAS

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Robot bee can pave the way for future dual function aerial and aquatic vehicles

A robot that can both swim and fly sounds something out of a science fiction movie but researchers have just turned it into a reality and created an insect-size robot with ability to hover around and dive.

Creating such robot was a difficult task because it required two contradictory designs, aerial and aquatic vehicles.

To move through the air, robot needs insect-like wings to generate strong vertical lift while to move under water, it needs minimize surface area to reduce drag.

However, researchers at Harvard John A. Paulson School have been able combine both the designs effectively and created RoboBee, the first ever flying robot that can swim through the water as well.

For creating this robot, researchers at SEAS looked to Puffin, one of the rare birds that use flapping motions of its wings to propel themselves through the air as well as water.

"Through various theoretical, computational and experimental studies, we found that the mechanics of flapping propulsion are actually very similar in air and in water," said Kevin Chen, a graduate student in the Harvard Microrobotics Lab at SEAS. "In both cases, the wing is moving back and forth. The only difference is the speed at which the wing flaps."

By applying both techniques, researchers have demonstrated a flying, swimming, insect-like robot. Harvard Robobee is a lightweight, microrobot that is smaller than a paperclip. It has nearly invincible wings that can flip 120 times per second.

The robot bee can fly and hover for quite some time and to make transition from air to water, it creates a certain angle and crashes abruptly into the water to sink.

This RoboBee will pave the way for future machines that can act as both aerial and aquatic vehicles.

“Bioinspired robots, such as the Robobee, are invaluable tools for a host of interesting experiments – in this case on the fluid mechanics of flipping foils in different in different fluids,” said Robert Wood, co-author of the study. “This is all enabled by the ability to construct complex devices that faithfully recreate some of the features of organisms of interest.”

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