Robots Can’t Match Bumblebees’ Resilience in Flight

Bumblebees are clumsy fliers, bumping into flowers about once per second and damaging their wings. Despite this, they are still able to fly due to their resilience. This highlights the importance of resilience in flying creatures, and how robots still have a way to go before they can match the capabilities of nature. Aerial robots are not as resilient as bumblebees and can be grounded if their wing motors or propellor are damaged. This emphasizes the need for robots to become more resilient in order to match the flying capabilities of nature. (

MIT researchers have developed innovative repair techniques that enable a bug-sized aerial robot to sustain severe damage and still fly effectively. The robot’s artificial muscles are optimized to isolate defects and overcome minor damage, such as tiny holes. A novel laser repair method can help the robot recover from severe damage, such as a fire. This research was inspired by the hardiness of bumblebees and could lead to more resilient robots that can operate in harsh environments. This breakthrough could revolutionize the field of robotics, allowing robots to be used in more extreme conditions and environments.

This research paper presents a new technique for repairing damaged robots that enables them to maintain flight-level performance even after sustaining significant damage. The technique involves repairing the robot’s artificial muscles and actuators, such as by jabbing needles into the muscles and burning a hole into the actuator. This could be a major breakthrough for the use of swarms of tiny robots in tough environments, such as search missions in collapsing buildings or dense forests, as it could help robots to survive and complete their tasks in hazardous conditions. The technique was tested on a robot, which was able to keep flying even after 20 percent of its wing tip was cut off. This could be a game-changer for robots in hazardous environments, as it could help them to survive and complete their tasks.

Chen’s lab is developing tiny, rectangular robots powered by dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs). These DEAs are soft artificial muscles that use mechanical forces to rapidly flap the wings. To prevent failure due to microscopic imperfections, researchers have developed a process called self-clearing. This process applies high voltage to the DEA to disconnect the local electrode around a small defect, isolating the failure from the rest of the electrode so the artificial muscle still works. This process ensures that the robots remain functional and can be used for a variety of applications.

This research study tested a new repair technique for damaged flapping wing robots. Using laser surgery and needle jabbing, the technique was able to restore 87% of the robot’s performance even with severely damaged actuators. The results showed that the repair techniques enabled the robot to maintain its flight performance with only slight deviations from an undamaged robot. This research demonstrates the potential of using laser surgery and needle jabbing to repair damaged flapping wing robots, providing a cost-effective and efficient solution for robot repair.

Chen and his team at the University of Maryland have developed a way to repair tiny robots in mid-flight, making them more robust and able to perform new functions. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a MathWorks Fellowship, the team is teaching the robots new functions, like landing on flowers or flying in a swarm, and developing new control algorithms so the robots can fly better. This research has the potential to revolutionize the way robots are used in the future by enabling them to carry their own power source and control their yaw angle to keep a constant heading. With this technology, robots can be more reliable and efficient, and open up new possibilities for their use.