Robobees – Robotic Pollinators of the Future

Robobees

robobeesScientific American recently published an article on the emerging technology of Robobees. Researchers at Harvard have been working on creating flying robots to perform the tasks of a colony of bees.

Beyond pollination, there are many other possible applications for these robobees including:

  • search and rescue (e.g., in the aftermath of a natural disaster);
  • hazardous environment exploration;
  • military surveillance;
  • high resolution weather and climate mapping;
  • traffic monitoring;
  • space exploration

At nearly the size of an actual honey bee, these robobees are made of carbon fibers and carry their own power supply and electronics. The wings are flapped by using voltage to control a piezoelectric element that connects to the wings. Currently, the team is working on refining the battery to allow for extended flights. Right now, they are using wires to connect to a traditional battery for testing.

But perhaps the most amazing aspect of the robobees is the goal to have a colony of robobees that can communicate with each other. The goal is to have robobees disperse, find where flowers are blooming, and communicate with the rest of the hive. They are not quite there yet as there are many hurdles to overcome.

One of the biggest hurdles is to develop a low power method to allow communication. Current wifi technology is power-hungry and has limited range. GPS and other technologies are also power intensive. If battery weight and power were not an issue, then any type of wireless communication might work but battery weight is a limiting factor.

The researchers describe the battery problem as a catch-22: The heavier the battery, the more juice is needed for flight, the more battery power is needed, and so on. Nonetheless, advances in technology should yield a solution within the next several years. Perhaps it will be a hybrid battery solution that allows for solar charging.

Here is what the Harvard website says about the robobees:

From flies to fish to lobsters, small insects and animals have long been ideal models for roboticists and computer scientists. Bees, for example, possess unmatched elegance in flight, zipping from flower to flower with ease and hovering stably with heavy payloads.

Body

By leveraging existing breakthroughs from Professor Wood’s Microrobotics Lab, which conducted the first successful flight of a life-sized robotic fly in 2007, the team will explore ways to emulate such aerobatic feats in their proposed devices. In addition, achieving autonomous flight will require compact high-energy power sources and associated electronics, integrated seamlessly into the ‘body’ of the machine.

Brain

One of the most complicated areas of exploration the scientists will undertake will be the creation of a suite of artificial “smart” sensors, akin to a bee’s eyes and antennae. Professor Wei explains that the ultimate aim is to design dynamic hardware and software that serves as the device’s ‘brain,’ controlling and monitoring flight, sensing objects such as fellow devices and other objects, and coordinating simple decision-making.

Colony

Finally, to mimic the sophisticated behavior of a real colony of insects will involve the development of sophisticated coordination algorithms, communications methods (i.e., the ability for individual machines to ‘talk’ to one another and the hive), and global-to-local programming tools to simulate the ways groups of real bees rely upon one another to scout, forage, and plan.

Click here to visit the Harvard website

Additional Resources:

The article on robobees from Scientific American

Watch video of a robobee taking off

More images of robobees

 

 

Maybe we ARE living in the Matrix?!

Scientists to Investigate…

This is not your usual news, but it certainly is interesting. Scientists at the University of Washington have developed a way to test whether we are indeed living within a computer simulation.

Before you start laughing or shaking your head, consider the original article by Nick Bostrom that started all this. Basically, the article posits that if humans advance to the point of “post human” (meaning a super-advanced civilization capable of running computer simulations of ancesters), then it can be a logical argument to assume that it has already happened and we are merely one of these computer simulations. The article does some math based on current known constraints of computational powers and physical laws. Assuming a “post human” world encompasses the knowledge to fully access the brink of physical laws and has almost inifinte compueter processing power, then Bostrom argues that we can assume that we are a computer simulation just as safely as we can confirm “normal” reality.

If you’re still following and haven’t dropped your jaw, scratched your head, or donned your cap of skepticism, then check out this U of W article that proposes a test so we can know for sure. While it is still in it’s infancy, the idea is to show a distinct difference from the normal cone of distribution expected from the relationship of energy and momentum. What this means in lame’s terms is that we should start to notice some idiosynchrocies between “normal” and the computer simulation. I guess the idea is that if we do find these discrepencies then we can assume that we are living in a computer simulation.

I have a few problems with this. First of all, there could be other things causing these discrepencies. The answer could be more troublesome than being part of a computer simulation. Another problem is that it doesn’t really tell us anything that we can use. If we are all just part of a computer simulation, then what does that mean for us? Does it change anything? Does it make this life less “real?

But you know, part of me would not even be surprised. It wasn’t too long ago that we did not even know about the existence of DNA or pathogens, much less radioactivity or electricity. What if we next find out that we live inside a computer program? I would not change my outlook on life except to have a constantly unsettling feeling. 🙂

In any case, this is a really neat thing to think about psychologically as well as philosophically. The fact that it is now being tested with math and science just adds to the philosophical drama.

For an interesting take on this from the entertainment industry, take a look at the Star Trek Voyager episode “The Thaw”.

Let me know what you think about this in the comments. Also, if you know of any other pertinent tv or movie references, then leave those in the comments as well and I will append them to the post. Happy computing! 🙂