October 25, 2012
RoboBees: Design Poses Intriguing Challenges
It started with a TV show, “Silence of the Bees,” about honeybee populations in steep decline. At Harvard University, electrical engineers Rob Wood and Gu-Yeon Wei, and computer scientist Radhika Nagpal saw a challenge. And, so began the creation of the “RoboBee,” a miniature flying robot, inspired by the biology of a bee and the insect’s hive behavior. With support from the National Science Foundation and a program called Expeditions in Computing, Wood put together a diverse team of collaborators to get the RoboBee project off the ground. One challenge is to design a small exoskeleton to house the bee’s wings, motors, brain and electronics. Power is another issue. If the fuel source is too heavy, the bee can’t fly. For mass production, Wood’s team developed a folding assembly, inspired, in a lot of ways, by a children’s pop-up book. Ultimately, the researchers hope to build a colony in which the RoboBees interact, using their hive as a refueling station. They say RoboBees have the potential to be useful in a number of ways, including search and rescue missions, traffic monitoring, and weather mapping.