Barely with a mass slightly higher than that of a toothpick and working thanks to a laser beam, RoboFly, developed by engineers at the University of Washington is the first wireless flying robotic insect.
These robots fly moving tiny wings because they are too small to use propellers. They use a small on-board circuit that converts the energy of the laser into enough electricity to operate its wings.
The electronics you need to feed and control the wings of the robot insects are too heavy for them to carry, but this has ceased to be so, eliminating this electronics and putting in place a small brain (a microcontroller) that RoboFly became independent.
Energy was also transmitted through these cables. Once removed, what is used is a narrow invisible laser beam to power the robot. To achieve this, the researchers pointed the laser beam at a photovoltaic cell, which is connected above RoboFly and converts the laser light into electricity. For its part, The microcontroller acts as the brain of a true fly that tells the wing muscles when to activate (sends wave voltage to mimic the flapping of the wings of a real insect).
As explained by the co-author Sawyer Fuller, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Washington:
Before, the concept of flying robots the size of a wireless insect was science fiction. Could we ever make them work without the need for a cable? Our new RoboFly wireless shows that they are much closer to real life.
The team will present their findings on May 23 at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Brisbane, Australia.