Robotic insects take wing in US, but remain on leash

US scientists have devised tiny
winged robots inspired by flies
that could one day help pollinate
crops or aid the search for
survivors at collapse sites -- once
they get off the leash, that is.
The prototypes by researchers at
Harvard University weigh 80
milligrams and have managed
short controlled flights by
flapping their mechanical wings
while still tethered to a tiny
power cable, the journal Science
said this week.
The coin-sized robots sport two
thin wings that flap 120 times
per second.
Flight tests have shown they can
make basic maneuvers, including
hovering in place for about 20
seconds before crashing.
Experts are studying real-world
flies for clues on how to improve
the robots.
"Flies perform some of the most
amazing aerobatics in nature
using only tiny brains," said
Sawyer Fuller, a postdoctoral
researcher and study co-author.
"Their capabilities exceed what
we can do with our robot, so we
would like to understand their
biology better and apply it to our
own work."
The process of getting the robots
to fly has taken 12 years, said
Robert Wood, principal
investigator and professor at the
Harvard School of Engineering
and Applied Sciences.
"It's really only because of this
lab's recent breakthroughs in
manufacturing, materials, and
design that we have even been
able to try this. And it just
worked, spectacularly well."
The power cable has to stay on
until solutions can be found for
a portable high energy-density
fuel cell that is strong enough
and light enough to sustain
independent flight, researchers
said.