A Perching Robobee

Photo of a Robobee courtesy Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon
Photo of a Robobee courtesy Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon

Developed by Harvard University and MIT in 2013 this bee-sized micro-robot was designed to fly and behave independently. It can now land on walls.

Inspired by the biology of an insect with two wafer-thin wings that flaps almost invisibly, 120 times per second, the Robobee is capable of sustained flight. To improve depth perception the Robobee has micro-LiDAR sensors to serve as eyes. This allow them to perform precise tasks like landing on a flower.

Photo from Harvard University
Photo from Harvard University

However since many applications for small drones require them to stay in the air for extended periods, they run out of energy quickly. To keep them aloft longer the design team turned to electrostatic adhesion. They added an electrode patch and a foam mount that absorbs shock. Using a constant supply of energy the Robobee can now stick to almost any surface from glass to wood to a leaf. The power supply is simply switched off to detach.

Illustration by Peter Allan/Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science

Possible uses for robotic insects in addition to crop pollination, including search-and-rescue after a disaster and environmental exploration in dangerous locations such as volcanoes.

Robobees are a beautiful example of how bringing together scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines to carry out research inspired by nature and focused on translation can lead to major technical breakthroughs.



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