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Robot 'Fly' Mimics Full Range of Insect Flight

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the flyswatters-banned-in-the-lab-that-made-them dept.

Robotics 41

ananyo writes "A robot as small as a housefly has managed the delicate task of flying and hovering the way the actual insects do. The device uses layers of ultrathin materials that can make its wings flap 120 times a second, similar to the rate that a housefly manages. The robot's wings are composed of thin polyester films reinforced with carbon fibre ribs and its 'muscles' are made from piezoelectric crystals, which shrink or stretch depending on the voltage applied to them. Weighing in at just 80 milligrams, the tiny drone cannot carry its own power source, so has to stay tethered to the ground. It also relies on a computer to monitor its motion and adjust its attitude (abstract). Still, it is the first robot to deploy a fly's full range of aerial motion, including hovering (there's a video in the source)."

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41 comments

Spiderweb (5, Funny)

binarylarry (1338699) | about a year ago | (#43620617)

It'd be great to land this thing in a spiderweb and see how the spider responds.

Re:Spiderweb (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43621659)

Spider: Nice night for flying, eh?
Fly: Nice night for flying.
Spider: Nice wire. Handy for finding your way home, right?
Fly: Handy for finding your way home. Right.
Spider: Hey, I think this fly's a couple bees short of a hive.
Fly: Your web... give it to me, now.

http://www.linuxadvocates.com/p/support.html (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43620625)

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But... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43620791)

Can it land on a ceiling?

Re:But... (1)

localman57 (1340533) | about a year ago | (#43621003)

Or make more little flies?

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43621289)

Is it attracted to dung piles?

Re:But... (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43622027)

Yes. By attracting further research funding, this fly will likely succeed in spawning a new generation of robo-flies. And, if those continue to succeed in procreating with funding agencies (and even finding new survival niches), we'll eventually have little robo-fly offspring everywhere.

Housefly? (2)

lcampagn (842601) | about a year ago | (#43620793)

That "fly" is larger than the quarter provided for scale. Biggest damn housefly I've ever seen.

Housefly? Try Dragonfly! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43620871)

Dragonfly, yes, that would be more fitting. AND the story omits that the robot's size does NOT include a power source (battery) so it's fully tethered by a power wire dangling from it. Yes, it's impressive, but obviously there are some tremendous hurdles still to be overcome (power source being the toughest in my opinion). ALSO that wire tether very well may have connected to external processing power, yet another hurdle in the way of a truly autonomous, independent micro robot wherein power source, sensors, and control processing is all on-board.

Re:Housefly? Try Dragonfly! (1)

bws111 (1216812) | about a year ago | (#43620899)

Right in the summary: " the tiny drone cannot carry its own power source, so has to stay tethered to the ground. It also relies on a computer to monitor its motion and adjust its attitude"

Re:Housefly? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43621969)

Yeah. Why do they say housefly when it's so wrong?

Anyway it shows how far behind we are in tech. Houseflies can fly independently (for quite long too), navigate, try to avoid enemies, find their own fuel sources, digest it to usable fuel, reproduce.

Re:Housefly? (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about a year ago | (#43622163)

Yeah. Why do they say housefly when it's so wrong?

Anyway it shows how far behind we are in tech. Houseflies can fly independently (for quite long too), navigate, try to avoid enemies, find their own fuel sources, digest it to usable fuel, reproduce.

and suddenly become invisible if someone picks up a fly swatter...

Re:Housefly? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#43622399)

Yes. And echo -1 AC: this "shows how far behind we are in tech." Although I do not agree with the word "behind". I'd say "not yet advanced".

The title is yet another gross exaggeration of tech advancement, as so many have been to the point they're tiresome. Not only is that not "the full range of insect flight" (since when is hovering in place "full range"?), it's a very far cry from independent flight.

As the researcher admitted: it will probably be another 5-10 years before we have the technology to make the title really accurate. And even that would depend on enough advances in networking that the wire can be removed.

Re:Housefly? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43625497)

I've seen hoRse flies about that size before. And been bitten by one.

Energy Density (5, Informative)

lobiusmoop (305328) | about a year ago | (#43620807)

Energy density: [wikipedia.org]

Carbohydrate: 17 MJ/Kg
Lithium battery: (non-rechargable): 1.8MJ/Kg
Lithium battery: (rechargable): 0.75MJ/Kg

So until the power source gets a bit more 'organic' I guess it will remain tethered.

10-15 min flight time (1)

schlachter (862210) | about a year ago | (#43621117)

it says it can only fly for 10 to 15 min because its wing joints wear out and break apart after that.

Re:Energy Density (2)

Ryanrule (1657199) | about a year ago | (#43621337)

Its pretty obvious a nuclear option is needed.

Re:Energy Density (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#43622259)

actually, a small plutonium battery might just do it.

Re:Energy Density (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year ago | (#43623711)

Plutonium radiothermal generators have excellent energy density but terrible *power density* --- you can get a lot of energy per mass out of them very slowly, but you can't get high power from them (lots of energy in a short time). Great if you want to keep a rover or spacecraft running for decades without swapping out the battery; but useless for a flappy bug robot, which needs an energy source with a high power:weight ratio.

Re:Energy Density (1)

LoRdTAW (99712) | about a year ago | (#43622031)

What would be interesting is if they develop an inductive or electromagnetic recharging system that enables the fly to park itself near an electric or electronic device and slowly recharge itself using the electromagnetic/RF leakage. A live wire carrying current has a slight magnetic field around it that could provide enough power to charge the fly bot. Even if it could only fly for a few minutes, the fly can just buzz around and then recharge itself.

Makes for an interesting surveillance device.

Re:Energy Density (1)

kevkingofthesea (2668309) | about a year ago | (#43624105)

It's wild when you realize that even if the entire mass of the "fly" was a battery, it would only be able to contain 144 Joules.

Blart Versenwald III (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43621013)

Blart Versenwald III created (among other things) a remarkable new breed of superfly that could distinguish between solid glass and an open window, and also an off-switch for children.

Thanks to Douglas Adams, via Wikipedia

This gives a whole new meaning to ... (1)

Skapare (16644) | about a year ago | (#43621053)

... the famous phase "I'd love to be a fly on the wall in that room when they discuss ...".

Re:This gives a whole new meaning to ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43621645)

No, it doesn't.

Only marginally impressed by this (1)

kheldan (1460303) | about a year ago | (#43621949)

When they can create a robotic fly that can do all this and has it's own self-contained power source instead of having to have wires trailing it to a power supply, then I'll be impressed.

The future of drones (1, Troll)

trenobus (730756) | about a year ago | (#43622119)

I imagine the day will come when flying robotic insects smaller than these (and untethered) will be able to deliver a lethal chemical or biological injection to a selected human target. They could be piloted from a smart phone. Think about the implications of that, in light of our current drone program.

But the really funny thing is all the gun nuts who have so religiously pursued the acquisition of automatic weapons to defend their liberty against our tyrannical government. It turns out that what they really will be needing are lots of flyswatters. Just picture them trying to deal with this threat with AK-47's. "Hold still, Charlie, while I shoot that drone buzzing your head."

We better get our act together. The future is coming, ready or not.

Lies, Inc. (1)

l0ungeb0y (442022) | about a year ago | (#43622499)

I recall in that PKD story, they used a robotic housefly to conduct surveillance on people. And while we are safe for now, I am sure the CIA and FBI are wetting themselves thinking about the day they can get a power source with the energy density to power this fly sized drone without a tether and for hours at a time.

Why waste time with getting warrants for wiretaps when they can just let loose a few fly drones in the suspect's window?

Re:Lies, Inc. (1)

dave_leigh (67481) | about a year ago | (#43623111)

Why waste time with getting warrants for wiretaps when they can just let loose a few fly drones in the suspect's window?

Which is why I think I'll start immediate work on electrified window screens that can scramble robot flies' circuitry. Then I'll sell them to the CIA for protection against their own tech.

Every problem is an opportunity. Stay thirsty, my friend.

Re:Lies, Inc. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43623147)

Ya, just wait till those micro batteries they reported on last week get put into these, Oh.. and the optional tiny syringe filled with ebola or other suitable nasty would make this a great assassination tool. Don't think someone isn't working on this...

Fly Upside Down, Land on Ceiling? (1)

fygment (444210) | about a year ago | (#43623109)

Didn't think so. Only thing this is, is small. It doesn't do anything like a fly.

Fallout from the Fly Wars (1)

dave_leigh (67481) | about a year ago | (#43623159)

The best part about projects like this are the fallout technologies. Imagine that they solve the on-board battery problem... a battery with the requisite light weight, power, and long life may not be possible, but TRYING to make one may actually give us a decent cell phone or laptop battery.

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