Robobees To Swarm At Harvard

Robobee is the latest buzzword at Harvard University and Northeastern University, which received a $10 million grant to create a swarm of robotic bees. Based on news reports, it appears that researchers are attempting to build an entirely mechanical flying insect. (As opposed to cyborg insects like the HI-MEMS cyborg beetle.)

(Robobee from teh robobee homepage)

According to news reports, the work will likely be based on the earlier research of Professor Robert Wood, whose team created a robotic fly micro air vehicle that made quite a stir in 2007. The robotic fly weighs just sixty milligrams and has a wingspan of just three centimeters.

Bees and bee colonies have long been held up as models of efficiency and coordination. Using a host of different sensors, unique communication protocols, and a precise hierarchy of task delegation, thousands of bees can work independently on different tasks while all working toward a common goal--keeping their colony alive. Researchers in this Expedition will create robotic bees that fly autonomously and coordinate activities amongst themselves and the hive, much like real bees.

(Robobee diagram)

The research team aims to drive research in compact high-energy power sources, ultra-low-power computing, and the design of distributed algorithms for multi-agent systems. Furthermore, the RoboBees created will provide unique insights into how Mother Nature conjures such elegant solutions to solve complex problems.

Take a look at this unique video of the robotic fly taking its rightful place in the Museum of Modern Art.

(robotic flies in MOMA video)

Science fiction fans should be happy about this; purely robotic insects have been taken seriously by science fiction writers for almost three-quarters of a century. Technovelgy readers are of course familiar with the amazing scarab robot flying insect from Raymond Z. Gallun's 1936 story The Scarab:

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...

...the Scarab buzzed into the great workroom as any intruding insect might, and sought the security of a shadowed corner. There it studied its surroundings, transmitting to its manipulator, far away now, all that it heard through its ear microphones and saw with its minute vision tubes.

Read more at the Harvard Robobees homepage and the NSF press release; via ComputerWorld.

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