Fly Robot Doubles as Chemical Detector
A team of researchers at Harvard University have created a life-size, robotic fly that they say has potential applications in spying as well as for detecting noxious chemicals. To build such a tiny robot, with a wingspan of only 3 cm and a weight of 60 milligrams, they developed a new fabrication process that consisted of using laser micromachining to slice thin sheets of carbon fiber and arranging them into functional parts.
They also incorporated electroactive polymers, which can change shape upon being exposed to voltage, into the parts to make them responsive to electrical signals. "Nature makes the world's best fliers," said Robert Wood, the project's leader and a professor at Harvard University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.Now while the fly is primarily being touted as a device to use for covert surveillance (the project is being funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), we're interested in its application as a detector of dangerous chemicals. Once the technology is finalized and large-scale production of the flies begins, we can easily see these being deployed in various environments, buildings and cities to detect and precisely located sources of harmful chemicals. Not only would they save us a lot of time and effort, they would most likely prove much more effective at finding them and would have the added benefit of minimizing the risk of premature human exposure.