Black Mirror is coming true, again. This time it’s solar powered bee drones.

 

RoboBee X-Wing, is the first untethered solar powered insect drone to take flight.

The tiny robot was created by the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory in the USA – an amazing bit of microengineering. Carbon fiber and polyester make the minute wings and super tiny photovoltaic cells to power it. The solar cells generate about five volts of electricity, but that is boosted to 200 volts which is needed for liftoff by a tiny transformer.

 

RoboBee X-Wing
Noah T. Jafferis and E. Farrell Helbling, Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory

 

The RoboBee X-Wing weighs just over a quarter of a gram. To put that into context – a paperclip weighs about a gram. With these credentials, the RoboBee is the lightest aerial vehicle to have sustained untethered flight.

 

 

So, why does it use flapping wings, you ask?

Insect wings have several benefits over the propeller blades on regular drones we see nowadays. Wings give more agility and manoeuvrability, they are also quieter (frightening) and safer than propellers.

We are obviously a long way off from Black Mirror bee drones, but one day similar microbots could outperform an insect. Better actuators (mechanical versions of insect muscles used on the wings) will make the robot faster and more agile. Better solar cells will, in theory, let the robot fly indefinitely.

This gives it some less nightmarish benefits. It would be perfect for environmental monitoring or for flying in sensitive or cramped areas.

We’re sure the positive benefits out weight the negative for development like this. Making Solar panels smaller, more lightweight and efficient can only be good.

Sleep well tonight!

And, if you don’t have a clue with all the scared references watch – Black Mirror, Hated in the Nation, episode 6, season 3. 🐝

 


Reference Articles:

https://wyss.harvard.edu/the-robobee-flies-solo/
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2207687-tiny-flying-insect-robot-has-four-wings-and-weighs-under-a-gram/
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/26/science/robot-insect-flight-engineering.html

Academic Paper:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1322-0