The Flight Of The Robo-bee

The drive towards miniaturization has allowed us to pack more functionality into our gadgets. Our smartphones are an obvious example where we have amazing computing power in the palm of our hands.

Drones of the airplane kind have been shrunk down to hummingbird size. Now there is a news release that flying robots are being made at bee-size – drone honeybee size as they fit on a quarter (1).

The nice engineering trick is that the robots are assembled from multilayered sheets that are laser-cut so that, with a deft bit of folding, a robot is produced as if by magic. This will make them cheap and easy to manufacture and the news release refers to swarms of these robotic drones flying around searching for missing hikers and pollinating crops.

Neither of these applications seems to me to be really viable. Real bees are a better bet as they replace themselves (if we stop poisoning them) and produce honey. And I can’t quite picture ranger stations around our National Parks with hives of robo-bees just waiting to be released to go on a search and rescue mission, but maybe my imagination is deficient.

Maybe in some hazardous situations they would be invaluable carrying sensors and a camera. No doubt the military minds will already be working on the possibilities. I’m hoping the Harvard team won’t be fitting them with stings any time soon.

The good news is that, to date, none have escaped. They are all tethered. Maybe in time they will have photovoltaic cells in their wings and not need to lug batteries around.


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