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Robot 'Fly' Mimics Full Range of Insect Flight 41

ananyo writes "A robot as small as a housefly has managed the delicate task of flying and hovering the way the actual insects do. The device uses layers of ultrathin materials that can make its wings flap 120 times a second, similar to the rate that a housefly manages. The robot's wings are composed of thin polyester films reinforced with carbon fibre ribs and its 'muscles' are made from piezoelectric crystals, which shrink or stretch depending on the voltage applied to them. Weighing in at just 80 milligrams, the tiny drone cannot carry its own power source, so has to stay tethered to the ground. It also relies on a computer to monitor its motion and adjust its attitude (abstract). Still, it is the first robot to deploy a fly's full range of aerial motion, including hovering (there's a video in the source)."
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Robot 'Fly' Mimics Full Range of Insect Flight

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  • Spiderweb (Score:5, Funny)

    by binarylarry ( 1338699 ) on Friday May 03, 2013 @11:41AM (#43620617)

    It'd be great to land this thing in a spiderweb and see how the spider responds.

  • obligatory "The Fly" movie quote...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Can it land on a ceiling?

    • Or make more little flies?
      • Yes. By attracting further research funding, this fly will likely succeed in spawning a new generation of robo-flies. And, if those continue to succeed in procreating with funding agencies (and even finding new survival niches), we'll eventually have little robo-fly offspring everywhere.

    • by plover ( 150551 )

      I, for one, will SWAT our new robotic fly overlords! Ha ha!

  • That "fly" is larger than the quarter provided for scale. Biggest damn housefly I've ever seen.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Dragonfly, yes, that would be more fitting. AND the story omits that the robot's size does NOT include a power source (battery) so it's fully tethered by a power wire dangling from it. Yes, it's impressive, but obviously there are some tremendous hurdles still to be overcome (power source being the toughest in my opinion). ALSO that wire tether very well may have connected to external processing power, yet another hurdle in the way of a truly autonomous, independent micro robot wherein power source, sens

      • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

        Right in the summary: " the tiny drone cannot carry its own power source, so has to stay tethered to the ground. It also relies on a computer to monitor its motion and adjust its attitude"

    • Yes. And echo -1 AC: this "shows how far behind we are in tech." Although I do not agree with the word "behind". I'd say "not yet advanced".

      The title is yet another gross exaggeration of tech advancement, as so many have been to the point they're tiresome. Not only is that not "the full range of insect flight" (since when is hovering in place "full range"?), it's a very far cry from independent flight.

      As the researcher admitted: it will probably be another 5-10 years before we have the technology to m
  • Energy Density (Score:5, Informative)

    by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Friday May 03, 2013 @11:55AM (#43620807) Homepage

    Energy density: []

    Carbohydrate: 17 MJ/Kg
    Lithium battery: (non-rechargable): 1.8MJ/Kg
    Lithium battery: (rechargable): 0.75MJ/Kg

    So until the power source gets a bit more 'organic' I guess it will remain tethered.

    • So much energy, yet it just tastes so good.

    • it says it can only fly for 10 to 15 min because its wing joints wear out and break apart after that.

    • Its pretty obvious a nuclear option is needed.

      • actually, a small plutonium battery might just do it.

        • Plutonium radiothermal generators have excellent energy density but terrible *power density* --- you can get a lot of energy per mass out of them very slowly, but you can't get high power from them (lots of energy in a short time). Great if you want to keep a rover or spacecraft running for decades without swapping out the battery; but useless for a flappy bug robot, which needs an energy source with a high power:weight ratio.

    • by LoRdTAW ( 99712 )

      What would be interesting is if they develop an inductive or electromagnetic recharging system that enables the fly to park itself near an electric or electronic device and slowly recharge itself using the electromagnetic/RF leakage. A live wire carrying current has a slight magnetic field around it that could provide enough power to charge the fly bot. Even if it could only fly for a few minutes, the fly can just buzz around and then recharge itself.

      Makes for an interesting surveillance device.

    • It's wild when you realize that even if the entire mass of the "fly" was a battery, it would only be able to contain 144 Joules.

    • could the power be transmitted to it wirelessly?
  • Blart Versenwald III (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 03, 2013 @12:12PM (#43621013)

    Blart Versenwald III created (among other things) a remarkable new breed of superfly that could distinguish between solid glass and an open window, and also an off-switch for children.

    Thanks to Douglas Adams, via Wikipedia

  • ... the famous phase "I'd love to be a fly on the wall in that room when they discuss ...".

  • When they can create a robotic fly that can do all this and has it's own self-contained power source instead of having to have wires trailing it to a power supply, then I'll be impressed.
  • I imagine the day will come when flying robotic insects smaller than these (and untethered) will be able to deliver a lethal chemical or biological injection to a selected human target. They could be piloted from a smart phone. Think about the implications of that, in light of our current drone program.

    But the really funny thing is all the gun nuts who have so religiously pursued the acquisition of automatic weapons to defend their liberty against our tyrannical government. It turns out that what they reall

  • I recall in that PKD story, they used a robotic housefly to conduct surveillance on people. And while we are safe for now, I am sure the CIA and FBI are wetting themselves thinking about the day they can get a power source with the energy density to power this fly sized drone without a tether and for hours at a time.

    Why waste time with getting warrants for wiretaps when they can just let loose a few fly drones in the suspect's window?

    • Why waste time with getting warrants for wiretaps when they can just let loose a few fly drones in the suspect's window?

      Which is why I think I'll start immediate work on electrified window screens that can scramble robot flies' circuitry. Then I'll sell them to the CIA for protection against their own tech.

      Every problem is an opportunity. Stay thirsty, my friend.

  • Didn't think so. Only thing this is, is small. It doesn't do anything like a fly.

  • The best part about projects like this are the fallout technologies. Imagine that they solve the on-board battery problem... a battery with the requisite light weight, power, and long life may not be possible, but TRYING to make one may actually give us a decent cell phone or laptop battery.

  • Here's the lab at Harvard [] that developed this robot. There's more cool stuff on the YouTube channel [].

Genius is ten percent inspiration and fifty percent capital gains.