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In new mass-production technique, robotic insects spring to life
February 15, 2012 Production method inspired by children's pop-up books enables rapid fabrication of tiny, complex devices
Cambridge, Mass. - February 15, 2012 - A new technique inspired by elegant pop-up books and origami will soon allow clones of robotic insects to be mass-produced by the sheet.
Devised by engineers at Harvard, the ingenious layering and folding process enables the rapid fabrication of not just microrobots, but a broad range of electromechanical devices.
In prototypes, 18 layers of carbon fiber, Kapton (a plastic film), titanium, brass, ceramic, and adhesive sheets have been laminated together in a complex, laser-cut design. The structure incorporates flexible hinges that allow the three-dimensional product—just 2.4 millimeters tall—to assemble in one movement, like a pop-up book.
Sreetharan, Whitney, and their colleagues in the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory at SEAS have been working for years to build bio-inspired, bee-sized robots that can fly and behave autonomously as a colony.
INSPIRED by the biology of a bee and the insect’s hive behavior ...
we aim to push advances in miniature robotics and the design of compact high-energy power sources; spur innovations in ultra-low-power computing and electronic “smart” sensors; and refine coordination algorithms to manage multiple, independent machines.
Coordinated agile robotic insects can be used for a variety of purposes including:
• autonomously pollinating a field of crops;
• search and rescue (e.g., in the aftermath of a natural disaster);
• hazardous environment exploration;
• military surveillance;
• high resolution weather and climate mapping; and
• traffic monitoring.
These are the ubiquitous applications typically invoked in the development of autonomous robots. However, in mimicking the physical and behavioral robustness of insect groups by coordinating large numbers of small, agile robots, we will be able to accomplish such tasks faster, more reliably, and more efficiently.
Vision and Aims
The collaborators envision that the Nature-inspired research could lead to a greater understanding of how to artificially mimic the collective behavior and “intelligence” of a bee colony; foster novel methods for designing and building an electronic surrogate nervous system able to deftly sense and adapt to changing environments; and advance work on the construction of small-scale flying mechanical devices.
More broadly, the scientists anticipate the devices will open up a wide range of discoveries and practical innovations, advancing fields ranging from entomology and developmental biology to amorphous computing and electrical engineering.
Through a relationship with the Museum of Science, Boston, the team will also create an interactive exhibit to teach and inspire future scientists and engineers.
Worldwide honey bee colony losses continue
International Bee Research Association Press Release 1 February 2012
Since 2006 there has been concern worldwide about losses of honey bee colonies, especially the phenomenon of “Colony Collapse Disorder” in the USA. Information about the extent of these losses has,to date, been patchy, unsystematic and difficult to compare year on year and from country to country. Today, for the first time, the results of systematic surveys in Europe, north America, China, Israel and Turkey are published together in the Journal of Agricultural Research.
The research has been carried out by a team of 35 scientists forming part of the international COLOSS (prevention of honey bee Colony Losses) network, and 15 US scientists forming the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP). Survey data presented in the COLOSS study were collected for the 2008-9 winter from 12 countries and from the 2009-10 winter from 24 countries. Data were collected for the winter of 2010-11 for the BIP study, following on from earlier published US studies.
The COLOSS results show that mean honey bee losses in Europe varied widely, between 7-22 % over the 2008-9 winter and between 7-30 % over the 2009-10 winter. An important finding is that for all countries which participated in 2008-9, winter losses in 2009-10 were found to be substantially higher. In 2009-10, winter losses in south east Europe and in five provinces of China were very low, but in six Canadian provinces, losses varied between 16-25 % with those in Nova Scotia (40 % losses) being exceptionally high. The BIP study recorded the fifth consecutive year that winter losses in the USA were around 30 %. Survey respondents reported that over the winter of 2010-11 they lost an average of 38.4 % of their colonies, for a total US colony loss of 29.9 %; but one-third of respondents reported no winter loss.
In most countries and in all three monitoring years, amateur beekeepers (1-50 colonies) experienced higher losses than beekeepers with intermediate (51-500) and commercial (500+) beekeeping operations. Where beekeepers were asked to suggest the causes of losses, the leading self-identified causes of mortality were management failures such as starvation and a weak condition in the autumn.
Only a minority of respondents listed the symptoms of “Colony Collapse Disorder” namely: 1. no dead bees in or surrounding the hive while; 2. capped brood was present. Notably, respondents who indicated that varroa mites (Varroa destructor), small hive beetles (Aethina tumida), poor wintering conditions, and/or Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) symptoms were a leading cause of mortality in their operations suffered a higher average loss than beekeepers who did not list any of these as potential causes of honey bee losses.
IBRA Scientific Director and JAR Senior Editor Norman Carreck says: “These results show that honey bee colony losses are involved.