Harvard scientists just figured out how to make their robotic bee 'perch' on objects to save energy

Someday soon, robotic insects may help rescuers search for survivors in the rubble of disasters, mountain climbers communicate over long distances, and intelligence agencies perform covert surveillance. But, in order for engineers to develop these machines, they’ll first have to find a way to make them energy efficient.

Generally speaking, most micro aerial vehicles (MAVs) are only capable of flying for minutes at a time, and, since sustained flight is exhausting, it helps when they can perch up high to conserve energy. Perching is an important ability for flying creatures throughout the animal kingdom – you can see it in birds, bats, and butterflies. Now, you can also see it in Harvard’s RoboBee, a MAV that uses a unique technique to stick and unstick from almost any surface.

At just 86 mg, the RoboBee is even tinier than a real bee, and small even for MAV standards. Its size sometimes makes for awkward takeoffs, but also enables the machine to perch on surfaces using electrostatic adhesion (think static from a balloon) which is too weak for larger MAVs to use. With the RoboBee’s compact size, perching costs 1,000 times less energy than flight, meaning the little drone can conserve energy when not on a mission.

The RoboBee is almost a decade in the making. “This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12 years,” Robert J. Wood, professor and principal investigator of the National Science Foundation-supported RoboBee project, said in a press release. “It’s really only because of this lab’s recent breakthroughs in manufacturing, materials, and design that we have even been able to try this. And it just worked, spectacularly well.”

This isn’t the only remarkable robotic insect we’ve seen lately. Researchers at UC Berkeley’s Biomimetics Millisystems Labs recently developed Velociroaches, a team of robotic roaches that can help each other (literally) overcome obstacles.

RoboBee isn’t quite ready to hit the skies independently. Since it doesn’t yet have an onboard power source, the machine needs to be connected to thin wires that supply it with electricity. However, Wood and his team hopes to also develop the RoboBee further, enabling it to perch on more difficult surfaces, such as vertical walls.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Product Review

Compared to the P30 Pro, Huawei may have stripped too much out of the P30 phone

Has Huawei pulled all the best parts out of the P30 Pro to make the P30, its cheaper, smaller sister phone? Yes, but the answer is more complicated than that. Here’s our look at the 6.1-inch P30.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Computing

Get the most out of your high-resolution display by tweaking its DPI scaling

Windows 10 has gotten much better than earlier versions at supporting today's high-resolution displays. If you want to get the best out of your monitor, then check out our guide on how to adjust high-DPI scaling in Windows 10.
Emerging Tech

Asteroid Ryugu is porous, shaped like a spinning top, and is formed of rubble

The Japanese Space Agency has been exploring a distant asteroid named Ryugu with its probe, Hayabusa 2. Now the first results from study of the asteroid are in, with three new papers published.
Emerging Tech

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a super-speedy pulsar

A super-speedy pulsar has been spotted dashing across the sky, discovered using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Very Large Array. The pulsar is traveling at a breathtaking 2.5 million miles an hour.
Emerging Tech

Chilean telescope uncovers one of the oldest star clusters in the galaxy

An ultra-high definition image captured by the Gemini South telescope in Chile has uncovered one of the oldest star clusters in the Milky Way. The cluster, called HP 1, could give clues to how our galaxy was formed billions of years ago.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers discover giant chimneys spewing energy from the center of the galaxy

Astronomers have discovered two exhaust channels which are funneling matter and energy away from the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy and out towards the edges of the galaxy, dubbed galactic center chimneys.
Emerging Tech

A milestone in the history of particle physics: Why does matter exist?

If matter and antimatter were both produced in equal amounts by the Big Bang, why is there so much matter around us and so little antimatter? A new experiment from CERN may hold the answer to this decades-long puzzle.
Emerging Tech

Dublin Airport has a novel idea for tackling rogue drones

There are a growing number of technology-based solutions for dealing with rogue drones flying near airports, but officials at Dublin Airport have come up with another idea for keeping the skies safe.
Emerging Tech

This sleek new exoskeleton makes walking easier, fits under your clothes

A new ankle exoskeleton that is designed to be worn under clothes can help people to walk without fatiguing — and without restricting natural motion or drawing attention to itself.
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s latest breakthrough could make DNA-based data centers possible

Could tomorrow's data centers possibly store information in the form of synthetic DNA? Researchers from Microsoft have successfully encoded the word "hello" into DNA and then back again.
Emerging Tech

Here are the best (and least likely to explode) hoverboards you can buy

With widespread reports of cheap, knock-off Chinese hoverboards exploding, these self-balancing scooters may be getting a rough reputation. They're not all bad, though. Ride in style with our picks for the best -- and safest -- hoverboards