RoboBee is a robot the size of an insect capable of landing on nearly any surface, due to the attractive power of static electricity. These miniscule flying machines are able to land and sit for a certain period of time before taking off again to their new destination. This ability allows the robots to save energy during flight, in the same way that animals - including bats and birds - would do in the wild.
Small drones are often required to spend a great deal of time in the air in order to carry out an assigned task. However, these lightweight flying devices are unable to carry batteries capable of powering a long flight. Researchers examining the problem turned to the natural world for inspiration, stumbling across what may seem like a simple answer - rest.
"A lot of different animals use perching to conserve energy. 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," Kevin Ma from the Wyss Institute said.
Electrostatic adhesion - the same effect which allows balloons to be stuck to a wall after being rubbed in hair - was found to be powerful enough to adhere the tiny drones to most surfaces.
When a balloon is rubbed on hair, the latex picks up extra electrons, creating a negative charge. When the charged balloon is then placed on a wall, this pushes electrons surrounding atoms of the wall away, forming a positive charge near the toy. The attraction between negative and positive is then capable of holding a balloon to the vertical surface.
An electrode patch, packed with a burst of electrical charge, allows the miniscule flying machine to land on nearly any surface, from glass to leaves to rocks, holding firm until it is time to take off once more.
The RoboBee weighs in at just a few thousandths of an ounce, similar to the weight of a normal bee. The insect-sized drone uses just one-tenth of 1 percent as much energy resting as it does while flying, greatly prolonging the amount of time it may fly on a single mission.
Development of the new perching insect-sized drone was published in the journal Science.