Insect Inspired Micro-Robots

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has announced a new robotics center to develop robots designed to do useful things. Rather than producing a single large robot that will multitask, the institute is focusing on swarms of insect inspired micro-robots that accomplish useful tasks.

One of the robot creations is a miniature plane that is based on a fly. A tiny camera functions in place of compound eyes, inertia sensors give directions and anemometer hairs measure wind speed. The robot is capable of flying autonomously. Potential uses are for monitoring crops or industrial sites. Mini-drones could create a WiFi network in disaster areas where other communications systems are not functioning. As our miniaturization capabilities improve, so will our ability to equip robots with capabilities that serve insects so well.

One robot, the Swinglet, is being marketed by senseFly. The drone has an 80 cm wingspan and can capture images with its camera. Other sensing devices can be mounted on the platform. According to the brochure,

You don’t need to be a pilot to fly the swinglet, it takes off, flies and lands on its own. You may want to use it for picture capturing, or for air quality monitoring, atmospheric sampling, surveillance or mapping.

Swinglet Drone from senseFly

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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27 Responses to Insect Inspired Micro-Robots

  1. Jessica Barnett says:

    I really liked reading about insect inspired micro-robots. The technology is a great invention , and has so much room for advancement as well as expansion. It would be nice to see more micro-robots used for security surveillance as well as for disasters. Creating smaller robots than the Swinglet would be beneficial in certain situations. As a future project, I would like to see an ant-like micro-robot be invented that has the ability to move around, produce a live feed, possess digital camera capabilities, as well as to possess the ability to to go in and out of small crevices on the ground such as in disasters with the ability to lift a thousand times their weight when used with other micro-robots.

  2. HyoGun Kim says:

    It is amazing that things seen on the screen or on fictional book are actually happening now. I still remember seeing insect inspired micro-robots such as robot flies on the cartoon when I was young. Of course back then, no one believed that it was going to happen soon.
    As mentioned in the article, micro insect inspired robots would be beneficial to situations like natural disasters, managing vast landmarks, and it can also be used in exploration of environments where it is hard for humans to access. Although the technology is taking its baby step and need lots of improvements, I am definitely hoping to see more advancements and hopefully it will bring benefits to our lives.

  3. Wonsik Kim says:

    What I like about this technology is that it seems very easy to use compared to its sophistication. It will upgrade the quaility of our lives will help us achieve tasks easier and quicker. However I believe there is a downside to this. The idea and technology could be abused by terrorists and secret organizations and rather than being used for the common good, it could create more complex problems who are fighting against terrorists.

  4. Jacob Wert says:

    To just stop and think that technology has advanced so far is absolutely astounding! Not to mention that the idea that someone encounters a problem and through hard work can come up with a product like this and then find other uses for it.
    I hope that someday we can have the technology to build micro-bots that can be based off of ants or beetles, which could be used for exploration, or repairs in tight spaces that would be unaccessible without tools or other specified objects. But, this is certainly a great start!

  5. Whitney Williams says:

    I enjoyed reading this post because it was full of information on what the capabilities of this robot were and how it could be put to work. The video was also a huge attention grabber, considering how fast this micro-robot can fly while videoing efficiently then tightly packed away. It is amazing how something so little can obtain so much information in just a few minutes. This goes to show how technology is improving every day of our lives.

  6. Jarell Henry says:

    I really think developers and researchers have something here. With this robot they can effectively display what the world is like from a fly or anything that flies perspective. Due to its accuracy and proficiency in taking the photos the robot will make it easier for individuals to see what we cant see on the ground due to our view of things. While the means for this technology is good, like all other technological advances this too will have downfalls just because someone will abuse it and use it as a weapon. but overall i think this creation is great

  7. John Sanders says:

    It is good to see that scientists are now trying to focus on robots that preform a single simple task. I feel like this type of robot help the world in many different ways, because we can monitor things from a distance so less people have to be in harms way. It is really hard to believe that things like this are becoming “real” life instead of just things that we see in the movies. Using insects is also neat because so many insects are well adapted to their environment, and now we are adapting technology to our environment.

  8. Devin Hill says:

    After reading this essay, it blows my mind more and more, to hear and see the advancments the world is comming up with everday, it seems everyday there is a new form of technology is being created. But I think this will help the world in many ways to have micro robots based of of insects would help alot and who knows what you can use them for. The military could probly use them for protectioln in wars I believe this is good invention, to help with paricits, and to better the world.

  9. Jacob I. Thompson says:

    I think its pretty neat that people are making robotic things based off of insects. Sure some things are kinda cool like NASA wanting to send up a bot that was designed and based off of a cockroach. Some of the other things are for more practical uses like that little plane is what I find mind boggling because people could use things like that quite frequently for more common uses.

  10. Mark Anderson says:

    The way in which insects see the world is obviously a lot different than humans, but if we were able to see events through the eyes of insects we could help ourselves out with lots of different situations, specifically farming, as highlighted in the blog. By producing swarms of these “insect-like” robots instead of just one big single robot we are able to get many more angles on the industry of farming to see what we can do to improve different tactics of harvesting and whatever else you may see. Also, these small robots are very portable, just as insects are. Making it easy to bring out into the field for a quick observation as shown in the video. There is so much room for expansion as well!

  11. David Borst says:

    I think specializing robots on specific tasks is a great idea. Multi-function robots may seem like a cool idea but probably can’t preform a whole lot of tasks as effectively as one of the robots in the article. Designing robots after insects is a good idea because typically this will keep the designs small yet effective.

  12. John Allie says:

    This article was extremely interesting, and beyond eye opening. Insects generally move in giant swarms, by moving in swarms there are many different angles and more than one set of eyes looking at a particular point. By using small drone that work best in swarms, a farmer or disaster worker could see the extent of their crop growth or how bad the situation is with multiple angles on the situation. The small design would make the drones more efficient and generally cheaper than having one larger drone. The multiple smaller designs would also mean if one or two drones were compromised the whole operation would not go to waste, if you put all your eggs in one basket with one larger, expensive drone and it doesn’t work you would be beyond out of luck.

  13. William Heuer says:

    This article was very interesting to me due to the fact we are covering insect flight right now in class. It’s amazing that technology has come as far as it has. It seems natural to me that scientists would copy the movement of a flying insect. Flying insects have such success with movement from one area to another that it seems natural to use this type of movement for surveillance. I’m actually surprised that this type of invention was not first introduced by the military. I hope that it can have wider use than just for security. I feel that this type of invention could be a great asset in helping people during natural disasters. In the article, it mentions that these Micro-Robots are capable of creating a Wifi network but I feel that they could be used to get into disaster zones where a human could not. Overall though I still think its good that technology has advanced so far.

  14. Ye Jin Song says:

    I think creating robot by adopting insect’s feature is very smart idea. As insects can explore very tiny part of our environment with small body, I hope that this micro-robot could investigate every details of our life, even can stretched to human body. I am wondering that our technology reached to this level.

  15. Zack Golden says:

    This is my favorite topic in the future of technology. Shrinking down the technology and let it communicate with other devices. It feels like the evolution we see in living organisms can be applied to technology. Just in the past decade the advent of small semi-autonomous machines has given clever engineers the ability to create useful new home brew devices. These inventions fill up the number of niches opened up by the creation of new technologies. Big companies start noticing the new invention and start competing with each other to fill that niche. It really is fascinating.

  16. John Lovas says:

    Before reading this article, I figured that it was going to say that this technology was going to be used for military and security reasons. However, it being modeled after insects, it seems right to monitor the presence of insects in fields or where ever. Seeing that these things are getting so small is very impressive and could see them getting even smaller. Also that it flies by itself and lands by itself is very interesting.

  17. James Davenport says:

    Having robots based off of insects can give a very unique view to everything. Hopefully someday they can have robots that can fully mimic insects and give us a completely new view into that world, instead of just insect inspired robots.

  18. Matt Romac says:

    I thought that the article about the micro-robots was very interesting. It’s crazy to think how engineers can put some many gadgets into one small device like the senseFly. One of the features of the senseFly that I liked, which was shown in the movie, was how the pilot could change the course of the plane easily on a computer. After reading the article it is crazy to think of what could be happening in the future with these micro-robots. Will they be used by many people almost daily, will they be used specifically for the military, who knows, but one thing that we know is that it will definitely be a hit in the future. I cannot wait to see where these micro-robots take us.

  19. Joey Moyer says:

    I thought this was a very interesting post about micro-robots since my major is Electrical Engineering Technology. I find it very interesting to see how the electronics field can branch over into the entomology field. It seems like one of the greatest electronic challenges is to create a robot that functions like an insect. This Swinglet flyer is neat in how it can autonomously capture images for around 30 minutes and it can even return back to its starting position. It makes me wonder that in the next 50 years if our electronic machines will become so similar to insects that it will be hard to distinguish between which object is the robot and which is the insect.

  20. Rae Hyun Kang says:

    It is amazing that things that i saw on the S.F. movie or books are being made in reality. It is interesting that this micro-robot will benefit us in certain situations like natural disasters. Hopefully, i can have one of them in the future so that i can see the world in the view of insects

  21. This was really cool. The ability to place remote-sensing technology in the hands of anyone interested is quite a change. To think that much of the conservation movement was spurred by satellite imagery showing land use changes that has only been available in the last few decades places this latest advancement in context. This technology is quite remarkable, and I think I need one.
    Thanks for posting.

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