(GizMag) — Engineers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed the first insect-sized robot that can swim and fly. The RoboBee is smaller than a paperclip and weighs only 80 milligrams. It is made of flat layers of laser-cut carbon fiber hinged together with embedded plastic to form a frame and uses piezoelectric actuators to flap gossamer-like plastic wings at 120 beats per second. To save weight, power comes from an external source by way of a wire tether.
Building a machine that can operate both in the air and underwater is an exercise in contradictions. The design inspiration came from puffins, seabirds that can dive underwater and swim for considerable distances before coming up. The puffin changes from a flyer to a swimmer by adapting the flapping motion of its wings for water propulsion. Also, since the robot is electrically powered, the team had to prevent the water from shorting it out.Tags: Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering, puffin, RoboBee