February 17, 2012, 12:13 PM —
Counter-intuitively, a Harvard engineering lab specializing in research on ultra-small robots has adapted cutting-(paper's)edge technology from origami and children's pop-up books into a process designed to make it possible to mass-produce tiny flying robots at a cost that might make it practical to manufacture more than one.
The process developed at the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory is necessary to keep costs and logistics under control as the lab moves into experiments involving hives full of its RoboBee flying microbot, rather than just one or two at a time.
The Microrobotics Lab specializes in developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) designed to operate in much the same way as Predator spy drones shrunk down to the size of a bug.
RoboBee is one of a number of engineering research projects sponsored by defense contractor BAE Systems, which is working for the U.S. military to develop spy drones too small to be detected easily but capable enough to be piloted into buildings, training camps and other areas inaccessible to aircraft the size of a sedan.
Harvard researchers project the robot bee can also be used to pollinate fields of crops (putting real bees out of jobs) as well as civilian surveillance missions such as search-and-rescue, traffic monitoring and exploration of hazardous environments.
Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory