Harvard has introduced the first flight of its insect-inspired robot that flaps its wings so fast, it’s difficult to even see that they’re moving — but you can hear them.

Harvard Conducts Controlled Flight of Insect Robot RoboBee

RoboBee (Photo: Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon)

Developed by Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, the robot weighing just 80mg with a 3cm-wide wingspan recently took its first controlled flight, according to a study published in the journal Science. It was found able to flap its wings a stunning 120 beats per second — yes, per second.

Try to see its wings flap in this demonstration:

Not only that but it is reported to be the first controlled flight of an insect robot ever.

Graduate student Pakpong Chirarattananon was so excited after capturing the first video of the robot’s flight, he immediately fired it off in an email to his colleagues and adviser at 3 a.m., documenting the “Flight of the RoboBee,” Harvard’s press release stated.

“I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep,” Chirarattananon said in a statement.

And with more than a decade of work leading up to this accomplishment, Chiararattananon’s glee and that of the team was merited.

“This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12 years,” Robert Wood, engineering and applied sciences professor at SEAS and principal investigator of the RoboBee project, said. “It’s really only because of this lab’s recent breakthroughs in manufacturing, materials, and design that we have even been able to try this. And it just worked, spectacularly well.”

Harvard Conducts Controlled Flight of Insect Robot RoboBee

(Photo: Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon)

Due to the robots size, Wood explained that each component was a “moving target.”

“We would get one component working, but when we moved onto the next, five new problems would arise,” he said in a statement.

Unlike some robotic prototypes that are very carefully tested due to their difficulty to build, Wood’s team used a pop-up technique demonstrated last year that allows them to quickly and more economically produce the insect robots.

The researchers believe the RoboBee concept could someday be used for search-and-rescue, environmental monitoring or even crop pollination.

(H/T: io9)

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