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Buzzing RoboBees Can Fly, Swim

posted: 10/27/15
by: Renee Morad for Discovery News
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The first insect-like robot that can both fly and swim is creating a buzz of excitement in the robotics field.

The RoboBee, the brainchild of engineers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), is a tiny insect smaller than a paperclip that has been able to fly for quite some time. But just recently, engineers implemented a modified flapping technique to give the robot swimming capabilities as well.

Their research resulted in the first ever demonstration of an aerial and aquatic capable insect-like robot.

To make the robot swim, the engineers looked to seabirds, specifically the puffin, for inspiration. The engineers used theoretical, computational and experimental studies to identify that the only major difference between a puffin's flying and swimming is the speed at which the wings move.

Researchers applied this discovery to the RoboBee by modifying the insect's flapping movements. Watch the video below for more.

The RoboBee, created with flat layers of laser-cut carbon fiber connected with embedded plastic and piezoelectric actuators that flap at 120 beats per second, is powered by an external source through a wire tether.

There's one caveat: The RoboBee's plunge into the water isn't exactly graceful. To rise above the challenge of the super lightweight robot, the engineers realized that the gadget would have to crash into the water with enough force that it would sink a bit before switching over to a swim. As a result, the external power source is shut off just before the robotic bee's descent into water.

Related: Miniature Robots Pull 2,000 Times Their Weight

As an extra precaution, the team used deionized water, or water with all mineral ions removed, to avoid an electrical short when the bee swims.

Some kinks will have to be worked out, such as further insulating the robotic insect's coating to better protect the electrical connections, but the technology certainly makes a big splash for more advancements to come, such as possibilities for more or refined versions of robotic insects or larger flying submarines.

via Harvard and Gizmag

This article originally appeared on Discovery News

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