Researchers at Harvard have created a new version of the RoboBee robotic bee that it has been working on for years. The latest version of the RoboBee is able to do things that previous versions were unable to do. The new version can fly, dive into water, swim, and then take off again right out of the water.
The updated RoboBee is 1,000 times lighter than previous aerial-to-aquatic robots that have been designed and has lots of real-world applications according to the scientists behind it. The bot could one day be used for search-and-rescue operations, environmental monitoring, and biological study. For the robot to operate, the scientists had to devise wing flapping motions that would work for land and water.
The challenge was creating a wing motion that would allow the robot to propel in water without breaking off its wings. The team found that wing flaps at 220 to 330 hertz work best in air and 9 to 13-hertz work best in water. The team uses sharp edges to break the surface tension of the water to prevent RoboBee from being damaged when landing.
The challenge in getting the robot out of the water was solved by fitting it with a quartet of buoyant outriggers and a central gas collection chamber. When RoboBee swims to the surface of the water, an electrolytic plate inside that chamber converts water into oxyhydrogen, which can be used as fuel.
A tiny sparker inside the RoboBee ignites that gas and propels the robot out of the water. The current version of RoboBee weighs 175 mg, about 90 mg heavier than previous versions. The catch, for now, is that the bot can’t fly immediately after leaving the water. That is the next challenge to overcome.