Call them the RoboBats. In a recent article in Science, Harvard roboticists demonstrate that their flying microrobots, nicknamed the RoboBees, can now perch during flight to save energy – like bats, birds or butterflies.
“Many applications for small drones require them to stay in the air for extended periods,” said Moritz Graule, first author of the paper who conducted this research as a student at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. “Unfortunately, smaller drones run out of energy quickly. We want to keep them aloft longer without requiring too much additional energy.”
The team found inspiration in nature and simple science.
“A lot of different animals use perching to conserve energy,” said Kevin Ma, a post-doc at SEAS and the Wyss Institute and coauthor. “But the methods they use to perch, like sticky adhesives or latching with talons, are inappropriate for a paperclip-size microrobot, as they either require intricate systems with moving parts or high forces for detachment.”
Instead, the team turned to electrostatic adhesion — the same basic science that causes a static-charged sock to cling to a pants leg or a balloon to stick to a wall.