Harvard is aiming to push advances in miniature robotics and the design of compact high-energy power sources; spur innovations in ultra-
low-power computing and electronic “smart” sensors; and refine coordination algorithms to manage multiple, independent machines.
Applications of Robot Bees
- Autonomously pollinating a field of crops;
- search and rescue (e.g., in the aftermath of a natural disaster);
- hazardous environment exploration;
- military surveillance;
- high resolution weather and climate mapping; and
- traffic monitoring.
One of the most complicated areas of exploration the scientists will undertake will be the creation of a suite of artificial “smart” sensors, akin to a bee’s eyes and antennae. Professor Wei explains that the ultimate aim is to design dynamic hardware and software that serves as the device’s ‘brain,’ controlling and monitoring flight, sensing objects such as fellow devices and other objects, and coordinating simple decision-making.
By leveraging existing breakthroughs from Professor Wood’s Micro robotics Lab, which conducted the first successful flight of a life-sized robotic fly in 2007, the team will explore ways to emulate such aerobatic feats in their proposed devices. In addition, achieving autonomous flight will require compact high-energy power sources and associated electronics, integrated seamlessly into the ‘body’ of the machine.
Finally, to mimic the sophisticated behavior of a real colony of insects will involve the development of sophisticated coordination algorithms, communications methods (i.e., the ability for individual machines to ‘talk’ to one another and the hive), and global-to-local programming tools to simulate the ways groups of real bees rely upon one another to scout, forage, and plan.