MIT professor develops tiny sturdy drones that behave like bugs


It’s a bird! It’s a bee! It’s a bot!

A team of researchers led by an MIT professor has developed tiny drones that can fly, dodge, and weave like real insects. In other words, the resilient bots can float like a butterfly – but luckily, unlike a particular “black mirror” invention, they can’t sting like a bee.

Most drones, while powerful, are quite bulky and more fragile than agile. What if you want something that can navigate through thick forests or crowded indoor spaces, something that can move between obstacles and handle bumps? The key to the dexterity, durability and small size of the Buzzy Bots is their novel actuator, which is responsible for the movement of the machine.

Instead of a hard and inflexible actuator like a typical electric motor, the drones consist of thin and flexible rubber cylinders coated with carbon nanotubes. The cylinder quickly contracts and expands when voltage is applied to the nanotubes, causing the drone’s wings to flap nearly 500 times per second. That’s 50 times faster than a typical hummingbird and more than twice as fast as a bee. And like a real insect, it can handle a slight clap.

“You can hit it when it flies and it can recover,” Assistant Professor Kevin Yufeng Chen said in a press release. “It can also perform aggressive maneuvers like somersaults in the air.”

He said the 0.6-gram drones – roughly the weight of a bumblebee – could provide insight into the physics of insect flight. But they could also be used for more practical purposes, e.g. B. for pollinating plants, for searching in disaster-affected areas and for inspecting machines.

“Think about inspecting a turbine engine,” he said. “You want a drone to move [an enclosed space] check for cracks on the turbine plates with a small camera. “

But the robots can’t do much yet. They are currently powered by thin wires that essentially act as a restrictive leash. The next challenge is to develop an alternative source of energy that will allow the drones to truly roam freely.

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