Why It’s Good For Robots to Rest

Robots are all about hustle and bustle. Take industrial robots for example. They’re autonomous dynamos that work 24/7, without breaks or complaints, to help manufacturers meet growing consumer demands. They don’t get tired, they don’t need rest, they just relentlessly grind away hour after hour. For these big industrious machines, it’s work, work, work.

In an industry where time is money, it makes sense to have robots that are capable of plugging away, doing work at maximum efficiency without a moment’s rest. That does not mean that all robots are this way, however. Some robots need rest.

Industrial robots are capable of working without rest because they are connected to a power source that allows for minimal downtime. They are stationary and therefore they can be plugged in to a grid. And though many industrial robots have a battery, it’s not their primary power source.

Mobile robots, however, rely on batteries as their main source of power. They have a finite amount of time that they can operate before they need to recharge.

Unfortunately, batteries are nowhere near as powerful as we would like them to be. That quadcopter you got for your birthday with a 15-minute flight time is a good case in point. Short battery life is a big limitation of mobile robots.

Researchers at Harvard and a mechanical engineer at Washington University have developed a robot – called the RoboBee – the size of an insect that perches to conserve energy during flight.

The robot uses static charge to perch on surfaces. Since static cling is fairly weak, the robots had to be extremely lightweight. The robots are 36 millimeters across and weigh 84 milligrams, which is slightly less than the weight of a bee.

The researchers looked to nature for inspiration. A lot of technologies that work for larger robots – such as sustained battery life – don’t always translate to small scale robots. So rather than start from scratch, the team examined how birds, bats, and insects reserve energy and applied that to robotics.

It requires 1,000 times less energy for the RoboBee to perch than to fly. Resting would significantly extend the duration that the robot could be deployed

The robots are still currently being developed, but once they can fly tetherless, they could be used to survey disaster areas, detect chemicals, provide communication in remote regions, or gather intelligence.

Click here to learn more about the RoboBee.