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Harvard's Robobees Now 'Fly' Underwater

Harvard's Robobee was already amazing - at just 100 milligrams, this flapping wing micro aerial vehicle (MAV) is starting to match up with nature's own creations. Now, though, they've gone to a whole new level - or depth, as the case may be.


(Harvard Robobees video)

Yesterday at IROS, Harvard researchers presented a paper describing how they managed to get their robotic bee to swim, which Iím pretty sure is not a thing that even real bees are known for doing. With no hardware modifications at all, Harvardís RoboBee can fly through the air, crash land in the water, and turn into a little submarine. You know what that means: nowhere is safe from robot bees.

The key realization here is that swimming is actually a lot like flying: in both cases, youíre trying to propel yourself through a fluid by moving a wing (or fin) back and forth. To fly (and particularly to hover) you need to do this very quickly, but to swim, itís a much more relaxed motion. Itís fundamentally the same motion, though, and you can achieve it with the same basic hardware. In the case of RoboBee, to fly in air it flaps its wings at 120 Hz, while to swim in water it flaps its wings at just 9 Hz. Otherwise, three axis torque control is very similar, meaning that the robot can be steered around in the water, too.

The scarab flying robot insect from Raymond Z. Gallun's 1936 short story The Scarab is a very early description of a fly-sized flying robotic device:

The Scarab paused on its perch for a moment, as if to determine for itself whether it was perfectly fit for action. It was a tiny thing, scarcely more than an inch and a half in length... Its body had a metallic sheen, and its vitals were far more intricate than those of the finest watch...

Via IEEE Spectrum.

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