Laser-powered flying robots are the size of toothpicks

Engineers at the university of Washington have developed a laser-powered RoboFly. RoboFly, which weighs only a little more than a toothpick, is powered by a built-in circuit that converts laser pointer into enough electricity to power its wings.

Earlier this year RoboFly flew its first unrestricted flaps, the first flight of the wireless flying robotic insect. The robot can be used efficiently in post-disaster search and recovery, and can detect gas leaks.

For now, RoboFly can only take off and land, but the team hopes to soon develop technology to control robotic insects using a moving laser. The laser alone does not provide enough voltage to rotate the wings, so the team designed a circuit that can boost the output of the photovoltaic cells to the 240 volts needed to fly. To allow RoboFly to control its wings, engineers add microcontrollers to a single circuit.

The researchers say the microcontroller ACTS like a real flying brain, telling the muscles on the wing when to vibrate.