An extra pair of wings makes robot insects much easier to control
In 2013, some folks from Rob Wood’s lab at Harvard, including then-postdoc Sawyer Buckminster Fuller, published a paper in Science introducing a (mostly) controllable version RoboBee, an insect-size flying robot that could lift itself, hover, and move around a bit using two flapping wings. Since then, there have been several more generations of RoboBee, including this nutty explosive diving one.
The problem with robots at this scale, and especially flying robots at this scale, is energy storage. It takes a lot of oomph to lift off of the ground and stay there, which means that high power is necessary, which means a relatively big battery to provide that power for a significant amount of time, which means a heavier robot over, which means more power is required to lift off, and you can see what the problem is.
Fuller has since moved on to a professorship at the University of Washington, where he’s been working on ways of solving this problem of power autonomy. Last year, we wrote about a laser-powered flapping-wing microrobot, and in the April issue of IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, Fuller has a paper on a new flapping-wing microrobot that might be able to be both power autonomous as well as getting airborne with the necessary sensing and computing to do something useful. The secret is not much of a secret— instead of two wings, why not use four?
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