Just when you thought drones were impressive enough, researchers roll out new technology that continues to push the envelope on what we thought was possible. Here are some major developments from the past couple years.
On May 15th of this year, the University of Washington revealed big news in drone technology. Researchers have developed RoboFly, the first wireless flying robotic insect.
Previous flying robo-insects were wired because of heavy electronics needed to power their wings. RoboFly is slightly heavier than a toothpick, and is powered by a laser beam. A tiny onboard circuit transforms laser energy into electricity. That electricity is enough to operate the wings. A microcontroller on the circuit acts like a fly’s brain, telling the wings when to flap.
In comparison to larger drones with propellers, RoboFly’s size gives it the ability to easily access tight places. It is also relatively cheap to make. These robo-insects can go places tethered versions of the technology could not. They can help with surveying crop growth on large farms, sniffing out gas leaks, and a wide variety of other functions.
Drone by Eijiro Miyako
Last year, Eijiro Miyako, a researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, has developed a slightly different kind of drone. Miyako’s insect-sized drone was designed for the purpose of artificial pollination. With honeybee population on the decline, this technology is becoming increasingly relevant.
With the pollination crisis and honeybee decline, Miyako came up with the technology that could be a partial solution. These bee-sized drones are coated with a patch of horse hair bristles and a specialized gel. The combination of those materials allows the drone to transfer pollen from one plant to another.
The liquid gel’s eco-friendliness has been thoroughly tested with experiments involving ants, mouse cells, tulips and houseflies. The drone itself has not been widely used for pollination, but the technology has opened doors. All 20,000 species of bees have unique flight patterns and body sizes for optimal pollination, and the drone is not yet that advanced. However, the technology does have merit in potential pesticide delivery, reducing drift and overuse.
The Dragonfly Drone
In 2016, the UK military announced a palm-sized, dragonfly-like drone that can be used for spying on enemy positions and gathering intel for British agents and the military. They claim that it will become Britain’s latest weapon against terror.
These robo-insects are only going to become more advanced as the years progress. I look forward to seeing how these tiny robots will impact our world in the future.