The Harvard RoboBee, created by engineers at Harvard John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Microbiotics Lab, is the first robot bee that can swim and fly. It is a micro robot, and is smaller than a paperclip. It can flap its electronic wings up to 120 times a second, giving it plenty of lift for flying. The Most robots can’t do both since the mechanics of flying and swimming are seen as being very different.

In order to figure out how the first robot bee could have both abilities, scientists looked at the Puffin, a sea bird that can efficiently fly and swim. The team also needed to solve the problem of the surface tension of the water, as the robot bee is so lightweight it can’t break through the water’s surface to be able to swim.

First Robot Bee Designed to Move Differently in Water and Air

The scientists who created the RoboBee had to figure out how to design their robot bee to be able to move its wings differently in air than in water. Since water is denser than air, the RoboBee would break its wings if it tried to dive into the water if it didn’t somehow adjust for this difference.

To break the surface tension of the water, the RoboBee was created to make a controlled crash into the water and sink. To move through the water, the wing flapping is brought down to around 9 beats per second. Currently, the first robot bee can only swim in deionized water and coated its electrical connections with glue to help prevent the circuits from shorting out. It is tethered to a power supply by wire.

RoboBee More Versatile, Can Be Used In Many Ways

Since the RoboBee can both swim and fly, it will be much more versatile.

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This should allow it to be used in many different ways. Scientists at the University of Florida will help to further develop the RoboBee’s sensors. These tiny sensors measure light reflection and help the RoboBee to navigate and perceive its environment. It works via an extremely small laser range detector. Another company, Dantu, will create algorithms that will allow the bee to make sense of the laser input. The teams working with RoboBee hope that this new form of technology won’t be limited to just robotic insects.

The first robot bee research was presented in a paper at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Germany. Kevin Chen, a graduate student at the Microbiotics Lab and lead author of the research and paper accepted the award for best paper.