A team of engineering designers from the United States and Hong Kong has created a new drone prototype named “Robobee” that resembles an insect. By the use of electrostatic adhesion, the small drone can attach itself onto different surfaces, allowing better observation of emergency situations.

Technology is constantly evolving and redefining itself from cell phones and computers to artificial intelligence and robotics, technology is adapted to daily situations to relief and discover aspects of life.

Robot drones have revolutionized the way of camera recording, photography, surveillance and even politics. These machines are unmanned aircraft with preprogrammed flight plans, users controlling drones can decide whether the machine goes in a straight line or in circles.

Photo credit: Harvard University
A team of engineering designers from the United States and Hong Kong has created a new drone prototype named “Robobee” that resembles an insect. Photo credit: Harvard University

Drones are pumped with batteries that run out eventually, causing the machine to be recharged before the next use, but a recent experiment from developers from the US and Hong Kong has brought the world a bug-size drone.

The small drone is equipped with two small wings that support the thin body of the fly-like robot referred to as RoboBee by developers. This tiny robot is able to attach itself to the underside of a leaf and any vertical surface.

RoboBee has been added to the drone family

The RoboBee has been developed by  the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) along with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences of Harvard, the University of Washington and the University of Hong Kong.

This microbot comes as an innovation into the drone market thanks to its ability to attach to surfaces as a way to save energy and observe or record for longer periods of time.

Commonly drones can stay up in the air as long as their battery allows them to and with its small size the RoboBee can only stay flying in the air for 30 minutes top. That’s why developers inspired itself on the ‘patching’ ability of bees to save energy and observe better a situation.

The invention is a part of the micro-aerial vehicles (MAV) which are small drones with better aerodynamic properties that can fly different amount of distances and provide different points of view of a certain situation.

RoboBee weighs a tenth of a gram, measuring only two centimeters it has the ability to attach and detach from different vertical surfaces.

“Many applications for small drones require them to stay in the air for extended periods. Unfortunately, smaller drones run out of energy quickly. We wanted to keep them aloft longer without requiring too much additional energy,” said Moritz Graule who is first author of the research and is a student from the Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard U.

The team was inspired by the perching method animals use to rest such as bats and insects, while designing the robot the team considered resting the drone on its talons to be inefficient because it would need a higher force to get detached.

Further investigations resulted in the electrostatic adhesion system implemented in the RoboBee which is actually simple science that features opposite charges to create energy.

The system works just as a rubber balloon when rubbed into the human hair or into a wool sweater. Negative energy forces opposed to positive charge energies cause an attraction and results in an object sticking to another.

The drone supports itself in the air thanks to the tiny wings it then attaches itself onto the selected surface to observe, the drone will just need to be turned off to get detached from the surface.

RoboBee is equipped with a foam tube that prevents the robot from bouncing in the case of  falling from a surface and when it touches down. Tracking cameras are also integrated on to the robot to help it with the landing.

RoboBee functions and usages

The invention takes 1,000 times less power than common hovering which provides the robot with a larger life and has less body structure that gives space to batteries for the device.

“The use of adhesives that are controllable without complex physical mechanisms are low power, and can adhere to a large array of surfaces is perfect for robots that are agile yet have limited payload. When making robots the size of insects, simplicity and low power are always constraints,”  said Charles River a professor at Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard.

The creation of RoboBee will provide a better view of emergency situations, catastrophes, and situations in which human help can not be accessed. Investigators hope to use the drone into microsurgery.  

Investigators hope to evolve RoboBee and its usages such as adapting them to perch onto any surface rather that just hanging them into ceilings and surfaces on top of the electrostatic patch.

Source: Science Magazine