RoboBees: Design Poses Intriguing Engineering, Computer Science Challenges

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These tiny, flying ‘bots’ could one day help with search and rescue, weather mapping
It started with a TV show, “Silence of the Bees,” about honeybee populations in steep decline. At Harvard University, electrical engineers Rob Wood and Gu-Yeon Wei, and computer scientist Radhika Nagpal saw a challenge. And, so began the creation of the “RoboBee,” a miniature flying robot, inspired by the biology of a bee and the insect’s hive behavior.

“Nothing is off the shelf. We are developing all the physical and electronic components from scratch, and working out issues, such as how they communicate with each other,” explains Wood. “We are also coordinating all the algorithms, so that the members of the RoboBee colony can work together.”

“This set up is where we do all the flight tests,” says Wood, as he shows a Science Nation producer around his lab. In one corner, researchers at a white board are drawing small bee designs and discussing proportions. In another area, a prototype RoboBee, tethered to a power source, is about to takeoff.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and one of the agency’s programs called Expeditions in Computing, Wood put together a diverse team of collaborators to get the RoboBee project off the ground.

“A key here was to get everyone, all with great ideas about different aspects of the problem, lined up to work together. That made it possible for this team to attack an enormous challenge,” says Ken Whang, program director for the division of information and intelligent systems within the NSF’s Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering.

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RoboBees are already amongst us… 😉

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