A swarm of tiny robots that are able to carry out time-consuming tasks could soon become a common sight after scientists learnt how to attach a ‘brain’ to the mini laser-powered machines.
The research team at the University of Washington that created the insect-inspired droids said that the droids could be used for a range of jobs, including sniffing out gas leaks or surveying crops.
Because the fly-sized robots are too small to use propellers, they will work better by fluttering their tiny wings. There have been previous attempts to creating robo-insects that were limited as the electronics needed to power and control their wings.
Although engineers had figured out a way to use the invisible laser beam to power the bugs. “Before now, the concept of wireless insect-sized flying robots was science fiction. Would we ever be able to make them work without needing a wire?” asked Sawyer Fuller, from the university’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Our new wireless RoboFly shows they’re much closer to real life.”
The engineers added a microcontroller to the circuit, which will allow the robot to control its wing.
“The microcontroller acts like a real fly’s brain telling wing muscles when to fire,” explained one of the researchers, Vikram Iyer. “On RoboFly, it tells the wings things like ‘flap hard now’ or ‘don’t flap.’”
The controller will send a series of pulses in rapid succession so that the wings can flap forward swiftly. It also does this in reverse so that the wings flap smoothly in the other direction.
The current version of RoboFly can only take off and land because once it is out of the direct beam of the laser, it will run out of power.
Future versions can be powered by tiny batteries or harvest energy from radio frequency signals that would allow them to be modified for specific tasks.
The tiny bot is the latest example of a scientific breakthrough.