If you’ve seen the Season 3 finale of “Black Mirror” where drone bees are used to pollinate plants and combat global warming, well, those RoboBees exists — they just aren’t killing off thousands of people in the United Kingdom.
Researchers from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University introduced their first RoboBee in 2013, but back then it was only capable of taking off and flying.
The autonomous microrobot, which was inspired by the biology of a bee, could one day be used for crop pollination, search and rescue missions, and high-resolution weather, climate and environmental monitoring.
Researchers recently unveiled the latest version of the RoboBee, which is capable of flying, diving into water, swimming and propelling itself back out.
“We designed new mechanisms that allow the vehicle to directly transition from water to air, something that is beyond what nature can achieve in the insect world,” Yufeng Chen, a postdoctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute, said in a press release.
Because the hybrid RoboBee weighs a mere 175 milligrams and the water’s surface tension is about 10 times its weight, researchers had to find a creative solution to propel it out of the water.
For humans, getting out of the bathtub or a pool is no big deal, but for a tiny microrobot, researchers say it’s like hitting a brick wall.
So what’s the solution? Well, first of all, researchers outfitted the RoboBee with four tiny floaties. The problem is, those floaties could only really get the RoboBee to the water’s surface.
Once it’s out of the water, the tiny robot can’t immediately start flying. Researchers said in a press release that there currently isn’t space for onboard sensors or a motion tracking system so they’re hoping to make those improvements in the future.
Once it reaches the surface, the RoboBee makes use of its electrolytic plate to react with water and produce oxyhydrogen, which is a highly combustible gas.
This reaction increases the RoboBee’s buoyancy enough to push its wings above the water. Next, the collected oxyhydrogen is ignited, propelling the RoboBee into the air.
Read more stories from Alix Hines on Circa.