Engineers at the University of Washington have developed a robotic insect that weighs slightly more than a toothpick and is powered by a laser beam. According to news released by the university on Tuesday, the robot is called a “RoboFly” with independent flaps, and it uses a tiny airborne circuit that converts the energy of green laser pointers into enough electricity to operate the wing .
“Before that, the concept of wireless insect-sized flying robots was science fiction. Will we be able to make them work without wires?” Said Sawyer Fuller, an assistant professor in the university’s mechanical engineering department. “Our new wireless RoboFly Show them closer to real life. ”
Engineers said that the engineering challenge was flapping wings, because flapping wings is a power-consuming process, and the power source and controller of the command wing are too large and cumbersome to sit on a small robot. So Fuller’s previous robotic insect model had a leather belt that received power and control from the ground through wires.
Now, Fuller’s team uses a narrow invisible green laser pointer to power their robots. They pointed the laser beam at a photovoltaic cell attached above RoboFly and converted the laser light into electricity.
However, lasers alone cannot provide enough voltage to move the wings. So they designed a circuit that raised the seven volts generated by photovoltaic cells to the 240 volts required for flight.
The controller sends waveform voltages to mimic the flutter of real insect wings. “It uses pulses to form waves,” said Johannes James, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at the university. “In order for the wings to flip forward quickly, it sends a series of pulses in rapid succession, then slows down the speed of the green laser pointers pulse as it approaches the top of the wave, and then reverses so that the wings flip the direction smoothly on the other side.” , James said.
In addition, the engineer added a microcontroller to the circuit to control its wings. “The microcontroller functions like a real fly’s brain telling the wing muscles when to fire,” said Vikram Iyer, a doctoral student in the university’s electrical engineering department. “On RoboFly, it tells the wings things like ‘harden now’ or ‘don’t flip’.”
Currently, RoboFly can only take off and land. Once its photovoltaic cell is out of direct sight of the laser, the robot runs out of power and lands. But the team hopes to guide the laser soon so that RoboFly can hover and fly around.
Engineers say future versions may use tiny batteries or harvest energy from RF signals. “I really want to be someone who finds a methane leak,” Fuller said. “If these green laser pointer robots can easily spot leaks, they will be more likely to be patched, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The team will present their research results at the International Robotics and Automation Conference in Brisbane, Australia on May 23.