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Robot bee assembles in pop-up origami trick

Get out the Raid! This fabrication method allows for myriad small, insect-like robots to be assembled in sheets.

Harvard's Mobee robot bee assembles with 20 origami folds.
Pratheev Sreetharan/ Harvard University

Army-funded researchers at the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory are popping out Harvard Monolithic Bees ("Mobees") from multi-layered, laser-cut blocks about the size of a quarter.

Inspired by pop-up books, the manufacturing process could allow for rapid production of dozens of flying robots and other electromechanical devices. The research is being published in the March edition of the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.

In the RoboBees project, Pratheev Sreetharan and colleagues want to build bee-size robots that can fly and act autonomously as a colony. Until recently, it used a painstaking manual assembly method.

The prototype sheets consist of 18 layers of carbon fiber, titanium, brass, ceramic, adhesive sheets, and the plastic film Kapton. As seen in the vid below, the bee snaps together as it pops out of the laminate.

The assembly is dipped in a liquid-metal solder to lock its joints in place, and is finally laser-cut to release it from the scaffold. Applying a voltage to the Mobee causes the wings to flap at various frequencies. Sensors and actuators can be added to its body.

Since the manufacturing process is based on circuit board production methods, it would be relatively easy to use it to accurately mass-produce sheets of robo-insects.

No surprise that the project was partly funded by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, which envisions soldiers controlling robot swarms that could search buildings and caves.

As if bugs weren't creepy enough already.