Sign In

Communications of the ACM

ACM TechNews

Dive of the Robobee

View as: Print Mobile App Share:

Harvard University researchers have developed the RoboBee, a tiny robot that can operate in the air and under the sea.

Credit: Kevin Ma, Pakpong Chirarattananon

Engineers have long tried to design vehicles capable of operating both in the air and underwater. For inspiration, Harvard University researchers turned to puffins, which use flapping motions to propel themselves through the air and sea.

"Through various theoretical, computational, and experimental studies, we found that the mechanics of flapping propulsion are actually very similar in air and in water," says Harvard Microrobotics Lab graduate student Kevin Chen. "The only difference is the speed at which the wing flaps."

This discovery led to the development of the RoboBee, whose research was presented at the recent International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Germany. The RoboBee is smaller than a paperclip, and can flap its tiny wings 120 times per second.

Initially, the RoboBee was unable to penetrate the surface tension of water, and to overcome this hurdle the robot hovers over the water at an angle, momentarily switches off its wings, and hits the water in order to sink. Once in the water, the RoboBee changes its direction by adjusting the stroke angle of the wings.

It cannot yet transition from water to air because it does not generate sufficient lift without snapping one of its wings. Chen says solving this design challenge is the next phase of the research.

From Harvard University
View Full Article


Abstracts Copyright © 2015 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


No entries found

Sign In for Full Access
» Forgot Password? » Create an ACM Web Account