MIT engineers have created tiny robot lightning bugs

Robots the size of insects that can light up and fly have been created by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The developers of the robots describe them as having "electroluminescent soft artificial muscles for flight," similar to fireflies. One day, the robots may be valuable for search-and-rescue operations because to their light, which enables researchers to monitor them. The robots might flash their lights to summon assistance in hazardous areas.

Normally, information transmission for such tiny robots is challenging. “If you think of large-scale robots, they can communicate using a lot of different tools—Bluetooth, wireless, all those sorts of things. But for a tiny, power-constrained robot, we are forced to think about new modes of communication,” according to a project news release, senior author of a recent research outlining the machines and MIT professor Kevin Chen.

When Chen uses the word "small" to characterize these robots, he indicates that they are just slightly larger than a paperclip. The same group of scientists created the unusual wings that flap when electricity is applied and are constructed of a rubber-like substance and electrodes.

The scientists added electroluminescent zinc sulfate particles that, when electrified, illuminated the synthetic muscles. The zinc sulfate particles take on a particularly bright appearance when the robots are handled at a high frequency, and because they only add 2.5% to the weight of the machines, they won't affect how well they fly.

The crew experimented with various hues and even patterned lights after they had the fundamentals right. Additionally, they started conducting test flights while utilizing the lights to locate the robots using iPhone cameras and a specially created computer application. The small weight of the robots makes it impossible for them to carry sensors, which previously made it difficult for researchers to test them outside of the lab. Given that they can now be monitored more readily, adding the lights was a "major step" toward flying the robots outside.

Researchers intend to advance both the robots and the motion tracking technology in the future to enable better real-time monitoring. Additionally, they are attempting to replicate a trait found in real fireflies: To communicate with one another while in flight, the insects flash their lights on and off.

Previous Post Next Post