Imagine the worst — you’re buried under tons of rubble after an earthquake. Any hope of rescue or even discovery seems unlikely. Just as all hope seems lost, a buzzing fills the air as a tiny, robotic drone begins to transmit video of your plight to rescue workers. Meet Robo-fly, the world’s smallest drone.
Designed by Harvard researchers, Robo-fly weighs in at an amazing .0037 ounces. The drone looks like a cross between a stick insect and a mayfly. A report in The Daily Mail points out that Robo-fly could revolutionize search-and-rescue:
“[Robo-fly] could prove mighty useful as it is designed to be used in search and rescue operations, because it can squeeze through tiny spaces in collapsed rubble. The diminutive drone could also be used to monitor environmental conditions and even pollinate crops in the future.”
The tiny drone mimics the anatomy of bees and other flying insects in that it’s mounted with three sensors similar to an insect’s ocelli – a light-sensitive structure similar to eyes that keep insects – and Robo-fly — stabilized during flight.
“Recently, the emphasis has changed from how do you fabricate the vehicle to, now, how do you put sensing onboard,” researcher Sawyer Fuller said, adding “The ocelli is really the simplest possible sensor that we could think of.”
Although it currently requires a tether wire for in-flight power, researchers hope to have a wireless version in the air soon.
The Microrobotics Lab at Harvard University, led by Robert Wood, published a 2013 paper in Science detailing their efforts to design Robo-fly’s predecessor, RoboBee, a 100mg drone that, according to The Scientist: “could hover and fly a preset route on two lightweight wings.” The report concludes:
At this size, power sources and navigation sensors must remain off-board and connected to the robot via thin wires—no one has yet made batteries, cameras, or processors that small.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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