Harvard’s Flying Robot Bee Now Able To Swim In Water

If you have seen Transformers 2, you must have gaped in amazement at how Decepticons dived into the ocean to repair and resurrect Megatron. Among those that brought back Megatron to life were tiny, insect-like Decepticons.

Harvard is nowhere near making a Decepticon as of now but their Robot Bee can be called a stripped down version of it.

It has been several years now that Harvard has been developing this bee, and it has been very successful in that.


The robot bee can flap its wings like a real bee. Though it is capable of tethered flight only, the bee has a very high potential for search and rescue, surveillance, and exploration.

But the robot bee has just beat the real one in another area – swimming.

Harvard researchers presented a paper on September 29 describing how they managed to get their robotic bee to swim.

With no hardware modifications at all, Harvard’s RoboBee can fly through the air, crash land in the water, and turn into a little submarine, reports IEEE Spectrum.

The tiny robot bee (it is the size of a US penny) can be controlled to fly and sit on the tip of our finger.

In both air and water a motion capture system tracks its position and sends trajectory commands to the robot.

This is how the bee dives (or crash lands) into water.


Now notice how the bee flaps its wings to swim. The logic is that swimming is quite like flying – you need to flap wings or fins.


The reason why the bee crashes into the water is because its feather weight mass will not let it submerge in water in a normal way. The wings too are treated with a surfactant to make them heavier for submerging in water.

The bees will have all the features of a real bee, namely brain, body and colony.

The Harvard team will be exploring ways to emulate aerobatic feats in their proposed devices. They will also be looking to achieve autonomous flight requiring compact high-energy power sources and associated electronics, integrated seamlessly into the ‘body’ of the machine.


The robot bee’s ‘brain’ will be a suite of artificial “smart” sensors, akin to a bee’s eyes and antennae.

Dynamic hardware and software will serve as the device’s ‘brain,’ controlling and monitoring flight, sensing objects such as fellow devices and other objects, and coordinating simple decision-making.

The robot bees will be able to function like a colony via sophisticated coordination algorithms, communications methods (i.e., the ability for individual machines to ‘talk’ to one another and the hive), and global-to-local programming tools.


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