Remarked one unimpressed Yale researcher: "Leave it to the Harvard fellows to invent new and exciting ways to be irritating."
As the characteristic size of a flying robot decreases, the challenges for successful flight revert to basic questions of fabrication, actuation, fluid mechanics, stabilization, and power - whereas such questions have in general been answered for larger aircraft. When developing a flying robot on the scale of a common housefly, all hardware must be developed from scratch as there is nothing "off-the-shelf" which can be used for mechanisms, sensors, or computation that would satisfy the extreme mass and power limitations. This technology void also applies to techniques available for fabrication and assembly of the aeromechanical components: the scale and complexity of the mechanical features requires new ways to design and prototype at scales between macro and MEMS, but with rich topologies and material choices one would expect in designing human-scale vehicles. Our work explores the essential technologies for insect-scale robots including the following topics...
|RoboBees: a convergence of body, brain, and colony||Structure-function relationships for low-Re flapping flight||Control techniques for computation-limited robots|
|Ultra-low mass, high efficiency power and control electronics||Mechanical intelligence: passive control mechanisms||Microfabrication of articulated and actuated microstructures: Pop-up book MEMS|
We have demonstrated the ability to prototype multi-legged ambulatory robots on the scale of, and inspired by, both insects and myriapods. We use such at-scale prototypes and detailed dynamic models to parameterize the design space for multi-legged robots to optimize subject to various metrics (speed, stability, cost of transport, etc). Two examples are outlined below: the smallest fully autonomous hexapod robot and a centipede-inspired robot...
|Development of hexapod-inspired autonomous robots||Energy density optimized actuation for centimeter-scale autonomous robots||Myriapod-like robots and the study of many-legged locomotion|
Soft actuators, sensors, and robots
As our fabrication methods for microrobots evolved to include a greater diversity of materials, we began pursuing a new class of robots: soft robots. This is a paradigm shift since robots are traditionally thought of as precise and fast, due in part to structural rigidity, high force/torque actuators, and a large variety of available sensors. Robots based on soft materials may not share these traits, however we believe that soft robots enable new opportunities for robotics. Projects in this area include Active soft materials (materials that embed electrical or mechanical functionality in materials that are inherently soft, with characteristic modulus on the order of 100kPa to 1MPa), soft-bodied robots, and programmable materials...
|Printable robots: rapid prototyping of folding and self-folding devices||Soft functional materials: hyperelastic sensors and actuators||Assistive soft orthotics and wearable human-computer interfaces|