(CBS NEWS) -- After over a decade of work, the so-called "RoboBee" has taken
flight. Harvard University Researchers have been dedicated to creating
an insect-sized robot for years and the work has finally paid off.
to the researchers, the robot half the size of a paperclip and weighing
less than a tenth of gram, was able to hover for a few moments and then
flew on a "preset route through the air."
"This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12
years," Robert J. Wood, principal investigator of the National Science
Foundation-supported RoboBee project, said in a statement.
"It's really only because of this lab's recent breakthroughs in
manufacturing, materials, and design that we have even been able to try
this. And it just worked, spectacularly well."
The tiny machine
was actually inspired by the biology of a fly, which included a
submillimeter-scale body and two wafer-thin wings. The wings seem to
flap invisibly and beat at a rate of 120 times per second.
the little guy was not easy, and that wasn't just the technology behind
the project. Each part of the tiny apparatus had to be handcrafted for a
robot this small.
"Large robots can run on electromagnetic
motors, but at this small scale you have to come up with an alternative,
and there wasn't one," co-lead author Kevin Y. Ma said in a statement.
robot is able to flap its wings using piezoelectric actuators, which
are strings of ceramic that expand and contract when an electric field
is applied. However, the real technology is in the fiber body, which is
where the system stores its control system.
"We had to develop
solutions from scratch, for everything," explained Wood. "We would get
one component working, but when we moved onto the next, five new
problems would arise. It was a moving target."
painstaking project does not have to be repeated over and over again. In
fact, the team has utilized a quick manufacturing process inspired by
children's pop-up books to produce multiple samples at a time. This
process was actually created a few years earlier by Wood's team as well.
"We can now very rapidly build reliable prototypes, which allows us to be more aggressive in how we test them," said Ma.
the researchers perfect the design of the RoboBee they will be able to
mass produce easily, with a fully automated process.