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Robotics Bug Wireless Networking

Researchers Create First Flying Wireless Robotic Insect (newatlas.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: You might remember RoboBee, an insect-sized robot that flies by flapping its wings. Unfortunately, though, it has to be hard-wired to a power source. Well, one of RoboBee's creators has now helped develop RoboFly, which flies without a tether. Slightly heavier than a toothpick, RoboFly was designed by a team at the University of Washington -- one member of that team, assistant professor Sawyer Fuller, was also part of the Harvard University team that first created RoboBee. That flying robot receives its power via a wire attached to an external power source, as an onboard battery would simply be too heavy to allow the tiny craft to fly. Instead of a wire or a battery, RoboFly is powered by a laser. That laser shines on a photovoltaic cell, which is mounted on top of the robot. On its own, that cell converts the laser light to just seven volts of electricity, so a built-in circuit boosts that to the 240 volts needed to flap the wings. That circuit also contains a microcontroller, which tells the robot when and how to flap its wings -- on RoboBee, that sort of "thinking" is handled via a tether-linked external controller. The robot can be seen in action here.

Researchers Create First Flying Wireless Robotic Insect

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  • Yes, but can they make robotic insects that fly around, suck your blood, and give you diseases?

    Until they do, we're at great risk of not being able to fill the Mosquito's ecological niche should it go extinct.

    • Yes, but can they make robotic insects that fly around, suck your blood, and give you diseases?

      Robo-Skeeter!!!!

      :O

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Actually, my thought was "why not a cyborg fly?" Implant circuits in an actual fly that would control its movements. They've already done computer controlled cockroaches.

      Powering this thing by laser isn't really that different than powering it with a wire. Biological flies are efficient enough for sustained autonomous flight, and come in even tinier packages.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @09:07AM (#56619966) Journal

    Er...look, I want to credit the development team for making some tremendous strides in miniaturization but - that's not flying.

    Fluttering wings hard enough to momentarily leave the ground is impressive, yes. But don't spoil it by trying to call it flying.

    • The thing you are forgetting is that technology always progresses, so even though it can only "fly" for .25sec today, next week it will be .50sec, and by the end of the year 10sec, etc until it will fly for hours. This is similar to how the first computers had only a few bytes of memory, but now my wristwatch has a couple of gigabytes. Technological progress is inevitable.
      • The thing you are forgetting is that technology always progresses, so even though it can only "fly" for .25sec today, next week it will be .50sec, and by the end of the year 10sec, etc until it will fly for hours. This is similar to how the first computers had only a few bytes of memory, but now my wristwatch has a couple of gigabytes. Technological progress is inevitable.

        In ten years time, we might be able to literally put a fly on the wall inside the Kremlin.

        • Or invade another planet:

          FAST, CHEAP AND OUT OF CONTROL: A ROBOT INVASION OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM

          https://people.csail.mit.edu/b... [mit.edu]

          That was written in 1989. I am sure it is going to happen any time now though. After all these guys went to MIT and we all know how smart those people are.
        • There is tremendous spying benefit from the technology. Also it could be a deadly tool. Having it inject people with a poison or a virus then fly off. Would make it difficult to track.

      • Call me a cynic, but I wouldn't say technological progress is necessarily inevitable. Probable yes, but nothing is guaranteed. A couple of counter-examples is modern "alchemy", (well...changing one element into another), highly impractical on any sort of mass scale; and power generated by fusion; especially cold fusion. So far, useful applications of those technologies have been elusive despite decades of research. I suspect attempting interstellar travel in any acceptable time frame is going to be pretty

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Right? Is this a joke? I just saw the video and fail to see why it is worthy of publishing. I'm sure they are on their way to success but it is way too early to be rolling out the "Mission Accomplished" banner.

      • Publish or perish. Academia has been pushing these breathless hype press releases for quite a while now. It beats getting a real job and you might get some taxpayer funded DARPA grants out of it.
    • Fluttering wings hard enough to momentarily leave the ground is impressive, yes. But don't spoil it by trying to call it flying.

      The first flight of the Wright Flyer was 852 feet. Not exactly an intercontinental flight and they had almost no steering control. First flights are always short. Stop being such a cynic.

    • Re:Flying? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by radarskiy ( 2874255 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @11:04AM (#56620522)

      "Fluttering wings hard enough to momentarily leave the ground is impressive, yes. But don't spoil it by trying to call it flying."

      Fluttering wings hard enough to leave the ground is the actual definition of flying.

    • by Teun ( 17872 )
      Indeed, their miniaturisation is at the front.
      But the TU Delft's MAVLab (http://mavlab.tudelft.nl) has autonomous flapping wing vehicles.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
    • Your parents should be ashamed. Possibly fined. Maybe improsnomed.
  • The FBI/NSA has had these since the 80s
  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @09:11AM (#56619994) Homepage

    Not to poo-poo their work, but this is definitely not a first. A quick google search reveals several:
          https://gizmodo.com/its-almost... [gizmodo.com]
          https://spectrum.ieee.org/auto... [ieee.org]
          https://www.ted.com/talks/a_ro... [ted.com]

    I also remember a DARPA project to create a flying insect with a camera, that was powered entirely by ambient wi-fi. It would fly a bit, then spend hours charging, then fly a bit more.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      The second link is to work by the same group.

    • Impressive, especially the first link.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not to disparage anyone's work, these are all cool projects. Regarding your contenders:

      The Festo eMotionButterflies [festo.com] fly, are wireless (battery powered), but have 50 cm wingspan (roughly twice that of the largest bio-butterfly). Insect-inspired, but a bit of a stretch to call it an "insect".

      The Harvard hawkmoth [harvard.edu] is in the size range of bio-moths, but requires a launcher. That makes it more "falling with style" than "flying". It is also battery powered.

      The Festo SmartBird [festo.com]) is a robotic bird, not insect.

      Ro

      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

        Thanks for doing that research. I hastily put those links in without really reading them. You are totally right about the smartbird. So perhaps this is the world's smallest untethered robotic insect, and it definitely deserves accolades for breaking new ground.

    • The first example has neither onboard controller or onboard sensors, so it is not a prior example of the category
      The second example uses a wired power supply, so it is not a prior example of the category
      The third example uses a bird style flight which is aerodynamically distinct from insect styles of flight, so it is not a prior example of the category.

  • It is so cute! Can it do anything else except for taking off and landing? As far as I'm concerned the idea is to eventually create a robot that would detect methane leaks? I wonder if in some 50 years parents will use such robots to check if their kids do not search for what is the best essay services website in their rooms haha https://alltopreviews.com/ [alltopreviews.com]
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The idea is to eventually be able to spy on people and land on their picnic foods undetected.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      a robot that would detect methane leaks

      Robots following my ass around. Do Not Want.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What makes this one from the 1970s not qualify for "first"?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_Museum#/media/File:DragonflyInsectothopter.jpg

  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @09:53AM (#56620208)

    Sorry but the electronic engineer in me wonders how much POWER this arrangement creates and that requires we know the current... Knowing how many volts is like knowing how tall a building is you need to put a weight on top of, but not how heavy the weight is.

    Then the whole, we convert it to 240 volts to flap the wings, part is amusing too. How is this technical detail relevant to the coolness of what you accomplished? It's not hard to push 7V to 240V as there are off the shelf devices that do this with quite high power efficiencies... But there I go again with that power thing..

    • 240V is much more impressive than 7V. They did miss the opportunity to mention how the AI in the microcontroller tells the robot when to flap its wings though.
      • LOL.. I'm not that impressed with 240 V. It's easy to convert from 7 V DC to 240V DC if the power levels are under a watt or so. Cheap off the shelf hardware does that all day long. Now if you are converting a Kilowatt from 7V to 240V, that's a bit more of a neat trick.

        https://www.mouser.com/ProductDetail/Advanced-Energy/025PXS9-FL15?qs=BZBei1rCqCDMA25%252bfmkeyQ%3d%3d

        And that's just a quick search...

      • "240V is much more impressive than 7V. "

        Both of them are idiot values to fly a fucking toothpick.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      I scanned the article quickly and did not see (too lazy) what sort of motors/actuators and mechanical linkages they used. That will be a large factor in determining the efficiency of PV power to thrust.

    • Then the whole, we convert it to 240 volts to flap the wings, part is amusing too. How is this technical detail relevant to the coolness of what you accomplished? It's not hard to push 7V to 240V as there are off the shelf devices that do this with quite high power efficiencies... But there I go again with that power thing..

      But 240 is way more than 7!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Until it has enough power and longevity to fly into a room and take pictures or transmit real-time audio, the government's not going to be interested in buyin. . . er, I mean "shutting down" the project.

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @10:56AM (#56620494)
    Combine one of these with the ability to squirt a few drops of nerve agent.....
  • by Anonymous Coward

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hated_in_the_Nation

  • by CaptainDork ( 3678879 ) on Wednesday May 16, 2018 @11:27AM (#56620704)

    ... evolution did this long ago.

  • DARPA invented better over a decade ago.
  • #deathto game and be hated in the nation.

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