Robot bees fly and swim, soon they'll have laser eyes
Robot insects may someday be used in agriculture and disaster
relief situations. Photo credit: Microrobotics Lab, Harvard John A.
Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss
Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
How do you teach robotic insects to see? By equipping them with
tiny laser-powered sensors that act as eyes, enabling the miniature
machines to sense the size, shape and distance of approaching
“Essentially, it’s the same technology that
automakers are using to ensure that driverless cars don’t
crash into things,” said Karthik Dantu, assistant professor
in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. “Only
we need to shrink that technology so it works on robot bees that
are no bigger than a penny.”
Dantu is the principal investigator on the UB-led research
project, funded by a $1.1 million National Science Foundation
grant, which includes researchers from Harvard University and the
University of Florida.
Researchers have shown that robot bees are capable of tethered
flight and moving while submerged in water. One of their
limitations, however, is a lack of depth perception.
This is problematic if you want the bee to avoid flying into a
wall or have it land in a flower, said Dantu, who worked on the
RoboBee project as a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard before
joining UB in 2013.
The UB team will address the limitation by outfitting the robot
bee with remote sensing technology called lidar, the same
laser-based sensor system that is making driverless cars
The technology the team develops likely won’t be limited
to robot insects. The sensors could be used, among other things, in
wearable technology; endoscopic tools; and smartphones, tablets and
other mobile devices.