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RoboBees: An Autonomous Colony of Robotic Pollinators

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Published on Aug 18, 2010

From the 2010 USENIX Annual Technical Conference:
Matt Welsh, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University, discusses how his team of researchers from Harvard, Northeastern, and Centeye is developing a coordinated colony of robotic bees, aptly called RoboBees. The idea is to build a swarm of flapping-wing microrobots that are capable of performing wide-area search, environmental mapping and surveillance, and even pollination. This project involves a wide range of research challenges across many fields, broken down into three categories: body, brain, and colony. Problems in the "body" space include all aspects of the flight apparatus, propulsion, and power supply. The "brain" involves research on low-power electronics, including circuits for sensing and decision-making. Finally, research within the "colony" entails communication and control algorithms that will enable performance well beyond the capabilities of an individual RoboBee. Real bees coordinate to interact with the complex environment using a diversity of sensors, a hierarchy of task delegation, unique communication, and an effective flapping-wing propulsion system. Mimicking these tasks involves many open research problems that drive this project.

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