You might remember the RoboBee, that flies by flapping its wings, unfortunately, it has to be hard-wired to a power source.
Well, one of the RoboBee creators has now helped developed RoboFly, which flies without a tether. Slightly heavier than a toothpick, the RoboFly was designed by a team at the University of Washington.
Instead of a wire or a battery, the RoboFly is powered by a laser. The laser shines on a photovoltaic cell, which is mounted on top of the robot. On its own, the cell converts the laser light to just seven volts of electricity, so a built-in circuit boosts that to the 240 volts needed to flap its wings. That circuit also contains a microcontroller, which tells the robot when and how to flap its wings.
In its current form, the RoboFly can only take off and land, as doing anything else moves its photovoltaic cell out of alignment with the laser. Down the road, it is hoped that the laser will be able to track with the robot as it flies, continuously powering it.
It is even possible that the future version of the robot might be able to harvest energy from radio frequency signals, using more advanced microcontrollers to autonomously perform tasks in places that traditional larger drones couldn't go.
"I'd really like to make one that finds methane leaks," says assistant professor, Sawyer Fuller. "You could buy a suitcase full of them, open it up, and they would fly around your building looking for plumes of gas coming out of leaky pipes. If these robots can make it easy to find leaks, they will be much more likely to be patched up, which will reduce greenhouse emissions. This is inspired by real flies, which are really good at flying around looking for smelly things. So we think this is a good application for our RoboFly."
The RoboFly can be seen in action, in the following video.