The RoboBee project was first unveiled in 2013, when the bots were only capable of takeoff and flying – since then, they’ve been modified to stick to surfaces and swim underwater, and now their creators say they’re able to dive in and out of water.
The RoboBee weighs just 175 milligrams, and at this size, surface tension is like extra strong gravity: it’s 10 times the robot’s weight, and three times its lifting power.
To solve this problem, researchers from Harvard’s outfitted the RoboBee with a tiny combustible rocket, giving it the oomph needed to break the water’s surface tension – gas fills a chamber in the RoboBee’s interior, it’s lit by an internal spark, and woosh, it shoots out of the water.
What’s cleverest about this system is that it actually uses the water itself as fuel – a pair of tiny electrolytic plates convert the liquid into oxyhydrogen, a violently explosive gas.
To fit in all this extra gear, the RoboBee had to be redesigned, with a central gas chamber added, along with four buoyant outriggers – robot floaties, basically.
Still, there’s no space on board for sensors or a sophisticated guidance system – so although the new RoboBee can fly, land in water, paddle about, then burst out again, it can’t be remotely controlled, and it isn’t yet capable of doing useful bee tasks like pollinating the crops we all depend upon to live.