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Harvard’s robotic insects: the epitome of low power computing

The smallest aerial drone so far has been developed by robotics engineers at  the University of Harvard. The size of an insect, RoboBee was apparently inspired by origami, which is able to perform the agile manoeuvres of insects, and has wing designs based on real houseflies. It demonstrates the potential of low power computing and sensors in refining coordination algorithms within multiple autonomous systems. The bug's overall power consumption is a minuscule 0.019 of a watt.

Unveiled on Thursday, the Robobee is built from carbon fibre, weighs a fraction of a gram and has super-fast electronic "muscles" to power its wings. It can hover in air, flapping its wings to steer in a first demonstration of controlled artificial-insect flight.

Applications transcend established drone behaviour, the researchers see uses such as autonomous pollination of crops, search and rescue, hazardous environment exploration, military surveillance, high resolution weather and climate mapping, and even traffic monitoring. 

With low rates of pollination currently an issue due to a huge fall in the honeybee because of an affliction wiping out  hives, swarms of tiny RoboBees could soon be used to pollinate flowers and do the job of real bees if needed.


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