If you think real flying insects are annoying, you aren’t going to like the new robotic equivalent, either. Engineers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University made the world’s tiniest robot that’s only the size of a penny.
Aside from its sheer tininess, the robot—aptly named RoboBee—can take off vertically, hover, and fly around using its delicate, bee-like wings. Inspired by the biology of a fly, the two wings flap 120 times per second, making them almost invisible when in motion. They move so quickly thanks to “piezoelectric actuators”—strips of ceramic that expand and contract in a reaction to electricity.
Plastic wrapped in carbon fiber makes up the rest of RoboBee’s frame, although its body mainly acts as a series of joints to support the wings.
The only downsides? The little robot’s needs to be constantly tethered for power. Wind is a problem too, because of the bot’s small size and light weight.
RoboBee took 12 years to produce, from its conception to its recent successful test flight. The engineering teams will now build and perfect a number of robotic insect prototypes before applying the technology to real-life situations. Its creators think RoboBee could be useful in crop pollination, search-and-rescue operations, and maybe even medical procedures.