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  • Insects are true masters of flightsmall, lightweight and highly manoeuvrable.

  • Scientists have been taking inspiration from our six-legged friends

  • to try and create flying robots of the same size.

  • But it's proven difficult because when you get down to the insects' scale,

  • it's hard to generate enough thrust to carry your own power source.

  • But there's a new robot in town that's creating a bit of a buzz.

  • This is RoboBee X-Wing.

  • It's got a wingspan of just 3.5 centimetres and it's about a quarter of the weight of a paperclip.

  • At this scale, batteries are just too heavy to be carried onboard,

  • so the researchers used ultra lightweight solar cells.

  • These generate power and send it to a control board that operates a pair of piezoelectric actuators

  • clever materials that work a bit like a muscle and contract when a voltage passes across them.

  • By striking two actuators together, they bend back and forth to flap the bot's wings.

  • These seminal flights lasted for less than a second

  • and required more than twice the energy contained in sunlight.

  • But they represent an important milestone for flight at this scale,

  • and even supersede the thrust efficiency of living insects.

  • There's certainly still room for improvement.

  • The aerodynamics of the wings are not as efficient as a real insect's,

  • and, of course, the controls that insects pack into their tiny compact brains

  • are a long way off for RoboBee X-Wing.

  • But this model produced more thrust than it needed and in the future,

  • that could be used to carry controls, sensors, maybe even some sort of battery.

  • The hope is that these miniature robotic insects will one day be able to achieve continuous outdoor flight

  • and help with environmental and disaster monitoring, perhaps even operating in a swarm.

Insects are true masters of flightsmall, lightweight and highly manoeuvrable.

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