It’s not going to be the I, Robot machines, not the Cylons, not even Skynet: it’s going to be the RoboBees that will lead the AI insurgence. Inspired by the artisan’s touch in origami constructions, a new fabrication technique is allowing doctoral candidates at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) to advance ever further in the RoboBee project, to create robots that can fly and behave autonomously as a colony (shudder).
The product is the size of a U.S. quarter and only 2.4 millimeters tall, yet it incorporates complex machinery made from carbon fiber, Kapton (a plastic film), titanium, brass, ceramic, and adhesive sheets laminated together in a complex laser-cut design.
On top of that, it’s designed such that the product can be assembled all in one movement, like a pop-up book.
Previously, the method used to fold, align, and secure the teeny tiny parts of the robots was inefficient and pretty much ineffective. It was a more artistic method, for sure, where the human had to construct the device with the precision of an artist and the delicacy of a surgeon. This new method allows the machinery to construct the robots without human error, using cured carbon fiber, which is far more rigid and easy to align than the ‘wet tissue paper’ that is uncured carbon fiber.
But the method discovered reaches much further than just man-made bugs. The same technique can be used for high-power switching, optical systems, and other tightly integrated electromechanical devices that have tiny parts, since it can incorporate any material along with integrated electronics. In a device this small, no part of the mechanism can be purely structural: everything must serve an electrical function and this method now allows them to shove in sensors and control actuators all over the materials.
While it sounds scary to say that big robots are building littler robots (robot children!?) the truth is that designing how it all fits together is still up to the creative and expert human mind. CAD tools currently can’t support devices that combine flat, layered circuit board and 3D object design. But that’s all the human is required for in the process – once designed, the system is completely automated and more precise than we can even measure!
Let’s just hope that they don’t create an artificial intelligence that can learn creativity, because with a zero failure rate of the automated machines producing robot bugs on an assembly line, they’ll outnumber us in no time.
I’ll take a real mosquito any day.
Some Device Stats:
- Folding Joints: 22
- Assembly scaffold folding joins: 115
- Total device folding joints: 137
- Number of brass pads for “glue” points: 52
- Total number of “glue” points: 24
- Mass: 90mg
- By mass, one U.S. quarter = 63 Harvard Monolithic Bees (what a name!)
[Via Science Daily]