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Harvard University's robotic insect takes its first controlled flight (video)

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There's hardly a shortage of animal inspired robots, but few are as tiny as Harvard's autonomous RoboBee. The robotic insect has been around for a while, but researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering only recently managed a minor breakthrough: controlled flight. Using new manufacturing and design processes, the team has managed to keep the coin-sized bug aloft by independently manipulating the robot's wings with piezoelectric actuators and a delicate control system.

"This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12 years," explains Professor Robert J Wood, Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "Now that we've got this unique platform, there are dozens of tests that we're starting to do, including more aggressive control maneuvers and landing." There's more to be done, however. The tiny machine still requires a tether for power and control, and researchers are still studying nature to suss out how insects cope with flying through wind and the elements. Eventually, the team hopes to outfit the RoboBee with lightweight batteries, an internal control system and a lighter chassis. For now, however, they're just happy to learned to steer. Check out the insect in action after the break.

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