Engineers from the University of Southern California have designed a tiny four-winged robot that has almost the same agility and flight characteristics of flying insects. USC’s Bee+ project builds off previous robotic insect designs, including Harvard’s RoboBee autonomous flying microbot, which uses a pair of wings driven by small piezoelectric actuators.
Those wings were designed using cantilevers made with two layers of piezoelectric material with a passive material sandwiched between them. While the RoboBee could roll, pitch, and thrust, it was incapable of yaw, making flight control difficult. USC’s Bee+ expands on the RoboBee’s design by adding another pair of wings (four altogether) and ditching the RoboBee’s biomorph actuator wing in favor of twinned unimorph actuators with only a single piezoelectric layer.
The unimorph actuators weigh approximately half of what the biomorph versions do, at just under 0.002oz, which reduces the Bee+ wing-load, thus providing increased control. This design offers the bee+ with greater maneuverability, giving it the ability to perch, land, swim, follow paths, and avoid obstacles. The potential applications for the tiny robotic insect are numerous and include artificial pollination, swarm-based research, search and rescue, and more.
There is still a lot of work to be done before the Bee+ can be deployed, as the robot flies while tethered to a power source, which doesn’t necessarily scream ‘mobile’ in any sense of the word. It is also still to overweight (@ 95-mg) in its design to carry a payload. That said, they are easier to manufacture than the RoboBee, and the wings are more robust, allowing it to last longer in the field.