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Insect-sized bot is first to both fly, land

RoboBee uses static electricity to stick to surfaces

By
2:00pm, May 19, 2016
robotic perching insect

STATIC CLING  A sticky electroadhesive patch lets this tiny flying RoboBee (motion slowed to one-eighth real time) cling to the underside of a leaf and use far less energy than it uses flying.  

Houseflies stretch their legs to land. Bumblebees hover, then slowly descend. Now, insect-sized flying robots have a way to stick the landing, too.

A tiny aerial bot about the size of a bee (nicknamed RoboBee) uses static electricity to cling to the underside of a leaf and perch on other materials, study coauthor Robert Wood of Harvard University and colleagues report in the May 20 Science.

RoboBee, a bot with shiny, flapping wings and four pinlike legs, is the first of its size that can fly, perch on a surface and then take off again. This energy-saving feat could one day extend mission time in search and rescue operations, the researchers say.

For robots, tackling the problem of flight has been easier than figuring out how to land. “Engineers have been trying to build perching mechanisms for flying robots nearly as long as we have been creating flying robots,” Wood says.

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