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Artificial intelligence

Insect-size robots are breaking their tethers

Researchers have created a robotic flying insect powered by lasers.

The news: Behold RoboFly, a laser-powered robot built by University of Washington researchers that weighs in at slightly more than a toothpick. Too small for propellers, this teensy-weensy bot takes off by rapidly flapping its wings.

The challenge: Insect-bots require a relatively large amount of power to move their wings fast enough to take off. Batteries are too large and heavy to fly, so previous robots of this size had to be plugged in.

The solution: A laser pointed at a photovoltaic cell provides the RoboFly with electricity, which is then boosted by a specially designed circuit board. The laser has to be within seven feet of the robot, so don’t expect these little bugs to be flying too far anytime soon.

Why it matters: Robots like this could one day assist with tasks like crop surveillance, search and rescue, or gas leak detection. Just be careful not to mistakenly swat your mini-assistant out of the air.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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