Last summer, I posted that the first microrobotic fly had actually flown. Built by Harvard University professor Robert Wood and his colleagues, with funds from the US military ('natch), the 60 milligram robofly boasts a three centimeter wingspan. Its wing motions are based on those of a real fly. The robotic fly project was first, er, launched at Berkeley a decade ago. I'm delighted that I have one of the early resin fly models from that phase in my cabinet of curiosities. The new issue of Harvard Magazine profiles Wood and features the video of the fly at lift off. From the article:
Wood figures he is still only one-third of the way toward his goal of creating an autonomous flying robot. But the next step should be at least as rewarding, considering that it will include a focus on control of the insect–the reason he first got involved in the project years ago. His fly now runs on electricity transmitted via thin wiring from high-voltage amplifiers, but he aims to add an on-board power source. Initially, he hopes for five minutes of flying time, which will be extended as the battery options improve.
Eventually, he hopes to program insect robots to work in a group. "We want a human operator to be able to take out his batch of flies and say, 'I want you guys to search for carbon dioxide'–a survivor breathing in a collapsed building," he explains. From there, Wood sees the possibility of building group behaviors into a swarm: a means of pursuing his interest in the study of emergence, which examines how simple organisms such as ants can produce complex group structures.