You may recall seeing that cool video featuring a swarm of “quadrotor” flying robots at the beginning of the month, and marveling at their ability to fly in formation. Now consider a swarm of even smaller flying ‘bots, all moving independently, and each one housing an array of sensors for monitoring their surroundings.
You’re probably thinking “Eek! I’ve read Micheal Crichton’s Prey, I know what happens next,” but are then comforted by the thought that it’s all science fiction at the moment.
Unfortunately, you’re wrong, as a team at Harvard has come up with a revolutionary new technique for mass producing just this type of micro-robot. Building these tiny robots used to mean doing so by hand, but the new process uses machines to create multi-layered sheets that when complete, fold up origami-style to form a tiny robot bee.
These sheets are made from carbon fiber, titanium, brass and a plastic called Kapton, and measure 2.4mm in height once assembled, while the process itself removes the possibility of human error from production. The bee, after it has been laser-cut from the sheet, is about the same size as a US one cent coin.
The scientists say “dozens” of bees — which also go by the disconcertingly cute name of Mobee — will fit on a single sheet, making the production of thousands seem frighteningly easy, and that the breakthrough could lead to rapid advancement in Harvard’s “RoboBees” project.
Here, teams of “co-ordinated agile robotic insects” could be used for tasks such as examining weather patterns, monitoring traffic and more worryingly, surveillance.
The impressive manufacturing process still relies on the parts being designed by a person, but once this is done it’s a case of robots building smaller robots ad infinitum. Well, until we’ve all been hideously slaughtered at least, then they may slow down a bit.