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WATCH: 'Robot Flies' Learn To Stick The Landing

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A fly-size robot perches on a leaf.
Carla Schaffer/AAAS
A fly-size robot perches on a leaf.

A team of scientists has developed "robot flies" about the size of a quarter that can perch on almost any surface.

The flies were developed at Harvard's Microrobotics Laboratory, where researchers look to Mother Nature for design inspiration. For years, they have been working on fly-sized drones that could be deployed in groups. The drones could, in theory, be outfitted with cameras and provide multiple vantage points of a disaster, or link up to make an improvised communications network.

The roboflies work, but they also suck up a lot of energy staying airborne. They currently get power from wires attached to the ground, according to a paper in the journal Science.

To try and make the little robots more energy efficient, researchers have figured out how to make them perch on surfaces. Perching is up to a thousand times more energy-efficient than hovering, the researchers say. Perfecting the perch could dramatically lengthen the time that roboflies can operate in the field.

The perching works using static electricity. Each drone carries a tiny copper electrode on its head. When the electrode is energized, it creates a static charge that sticks the robot to a surface. Turning off the electrode sends the little drone back into the air.

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And it's effective most of the time: Occasionally a drone misjudged the landing and fell helplessly to the ground.

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