Robotic bees. researchers are developing a fully versatile flying robot

In a world first, researchers at Washington State University (WSU) have designed a robotic bee named Bee++ that is capable of stable flight in all directions, including a complex twisting motion known as a turn. This fascinating advance in robotics, made possible by a combination of innovative design and sophisticated control algorithms, has many potential applications, from artificial pollination to environmental monitoring and search and rescue.

The Bee++ prototype, built with four carbon fiber and mylar wings and four lightweight motors that each control the wing, represents a significant advance in robotics. It is the first of its kind to realize six degrees of freedom of movement for flying insects. Nestor O., Flaherty Associate Professor at WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. The team led by Pérez-Arancibia published their research IEEE Transactions on Robotics and presented their findings at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

“Researchers have been trying to create artificial flying insects for more than 30 years,” says Pérez-Arancibia. Creating these tiny robots requires not only a unique design, but also the development of advanced controllers that mimic the activity of the insect’s brain. “It’s a mix of robotic design and control,” he added, emphasizing the importance of creating an “artificial brain” for these tiny robots.

Overcoming several limitations

The WSU team’s first creation was a two-armed robotic bee. However, it was limited in its movements. To overcome this limitation, Pérez-Arancibia and his graduate students built a four-armed robot light enough to take off in 2019. The robot could perform complex maneuvers by twisting and rolling, flapping its wings in various ways.

Implementing yaw control, however, presented a significant challenge. “If you can’t control the catfish, you’re too limited,” Perez-Arancibia said, explaining that without it, robots spin out of control, lose focus and crash. He emphasized that all degrees of movement are extremely important for evasive maneuvers or tracking objects.

Inspired by insects, the team introduced a design where the wings bend in an angular plane. They also increased the frequency of wing flaps from 100 to 160 times per second. “Part of the solution was the physical design of the robot, and we also came up with a new design for the controller, the brain that tells the robot what to do,” he added.

Weighing 95mg with a wingspan of 33 millimeters, Bee++ is larger than real bees and is currently capable of autonomous flight for about five minutes at a time. But these restrictions did not dampen the spirits of the team. They are working on developing robots for other insect species, including reptiles and aquatic tourists.

The development of Bee++, which embodies the value of biomimicry and innovation, was supported by various organizations, including the National Science Foundation, DARPA, the WSU Foundation, and the Palouse Club through WSU’s Cougar Cage program. With this pioneering work, the future of robotics looks bright, full of promise for more breakthrough developments.

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