The robot has a wing length of 15 mm and weighs 80 milligrams
There is some way to go for robots to be more capable than insects but this is still quite a feat. This is a beginning not an end but it does mark the fruition of a long search to uncover the mechanism of insect flapping flight. It is a good time to have mastered the mechanics of flapping flight because modern electronic control and surveillance systems are well up be applied to such a miniature vehicle. So far there is only one, I have to say, it fly in the ointment. Of all the insects’ amazing attributes the hardest to mimic is the power supply. Wood’s robot flaps at 120 cycles per second and applying enough power to keep that in the air is beyond current batteries. Insects use life’s universal “electricity”, the energy chemical ATP. The efficiency of this process comes home every time you see a bee trapped behind glass. With no access to food, a bee can buzz for hours attempting to escape. Not so the robot fly. For now it receives its power via a tether line. Much larger robots use helicopter rotors and these machines are large enough to carry their own power. But for the really tiny, highly manoeuvrable robots it has to be flapping flight. So the battery people had better get a move on.
For the early history of the flapping flight project, see The Gecko’s Foot.
Kevin Y. Ma et al, ‘Controlled Flight of a Biologically Inspired, Insect-Scale Robot, Science, 2013, 340, pp. 603-7.