Science

Stick The Landing: Microbots Utilize Bees’ Ability To Perch

In the natural world, almost all flying creatures conserve their energy from time to time by going into a resting state at specific intervals. Engineers would love to take, specifically, the bees’ static technology used to “perch,” and apply it to a specialized energy-conservation method in drones.

Stick The Landing: Microbots Utilize Bees' Ability To Perch
Source: Pixabay

Robot Bees – Hover Drones Could Cover Crises

The real world applications for human civilization and development are endless. These hovering little drone bots could potentially be sent into extremely dangerous situations where a normal robot or human cannot enter — such as natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes or monitoring air safety and water pollution after an oil spill, for example — but they cannot perform their desired duties if they do not have a sustainable energy source.

If the drone could perch, it would not have to hover all the time. It could flutter from one surface to another, collecting data and recording observations. This allows the artificial intelligence to rest, conserve energy, and perhaps even recharge itself along the way. While this is all in the early stages of research, development and application, the possibilities are endless.

Here is the exciting and terrifying update: in a very recent study, published Thursday in Science, researchers from Harvard University revealed a robot with perching power: the RoboBee. While the mini-drone was actually designed in 2013, the addition of a sticky patch could make it much more efficient and effective at its job.

Another example of this new technology can be seen here, in the oddly saucer shaped bot: this jumping, squishy robot that looks like a tiny UFO.

I’m Squishing Up My Baby Bumblebee, Won’t My Momma Be So Proud of Me

Biological Technologies, and perching specifically, have been studied for some time, but transferring the innate knowledge of a living being into the artificial intelligence of technology for modern day real-world uses can be quite a challenge. Hence, the brilliant minds that conduct important research and development as well as work in applied sciences.

In a statement, co-author Kevin Ma, a post-doc at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wyss Institute said, “A lot of different animals use perching to conserve energy, but the methods they use to perch, like sticky adhesives or latching with talons, are inappropriate for a paperclip-size nano/microbot, as they either require intricate systems with moving parts or high forces for detachment.”

To address this conundrum, they have created a tiny patch that can conduct electricity rather than using glue or grasping appendages.

The basic physics: opposites always attract. When it is “on”, it gives the microbot a negative charge. Those electrons will push the electrons on other surfaces out of the way, much like magnets will repel one another if you try to push them together. With those electrons pushed aside, the surface the microbot comes in contact with will be positively charged. The robot will static cling to it, like a balloon attaches like magic to your hair after a good rub against any surface; that is static at work.

Weird Science Is Now a Reality

The patch has to be turned to the on position to maintain the static cling. However, while on, it uses 1,000 times less power in its “perch mode” resting state than it does while flying. The microbots static technology weighs just 13.4 mg, bringing the drone’s total weight to a mere 100 mg. It can cling to virtually any surface, but for now it has to perch on ceilings or overhangs — the patch sits on top of the device. The research and application team hopes to design more placements options for the “sticky patch” in the future.

Technology is developing at such an accelerated rate that the common person is not even close to knowing what is going on behind closed doors at DARPA. The R&D and Applied Sciences departments of all major institutions obviously keep their discoveries under wraps until they can be rolled out as impressive new devices for sale on the open market once patented.

Now this is what I call weird science. While monitoring natural disasters and such is a wonderfully useful way to utilize this modern day technology, the answer I really want is, how soon can I climb up the walls, or better yet, run up them and dangle from the ceiling like a happy gecko? Because if this technology can be applied to microbots, and even used for towing loads behind vehicles (yes, that is how the “sticky patch” was created and has already proved its broad range versatility) I, for one, can hardly wait. The Singularity is now.