Meet the smallest flying robot ever made: RoboBee. Weighing about as much as a quarter of a paperclip and able to fit on the tip of your finger, the tiny flying machine represented the massive efforts of two Harvard engineers, Elizabeth Helbling and Noah Jafferis. They worked to push the limits of miniaturization—and were able to see RoboBee take flight in 2007.
Although their creation was already a marvel, Helbling and Jafferis were determined to improve upon its features to one day assemble fleets of RoboBees. They removed the wire tether that provided its power and control. Doing so would require them to balance payload, power, and thrust without scaling up. It took three years, but Helbling and Jafferis modified their designs and equipped the RoboBee with miniature solar-powered cells and a control board, bringing the researchers vision of tiny flying swarms of robots one step closer to reality.
- Listen to a Science Friday interview with Farrell Helbling on the initial publication of the RoboBee research in 2016.
- Listen to a follow-up 2017 Science Friday interview with Helbling about a flying bot that can also dive and swim.
- Find more information about miniature flying bots on the research group’s website.
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Produced by Luke Groskin
Edited by Paul Frost
Music by Audio Network
Additional images courtesy of Farrell Helbling, the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, Springer Handbook (C.C. BY 2.0) Youtube User Charbax (C.C BY 2.0) U.S. Army (C.C BY 2.0)