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Robotic flies take to the skies

Five individual robotic flies of identical design are shown alongside a US penny for scale.
[Image courtesy of Kevin Ma, Pakpong Chirarattananon]

The common house-fly is one of nature's most agile fliers, capable of dodging flyswatters and carefully landing on flowers that are blowing in the wind. Now, researchers have designed a small, flying robot—about the size of a house-fly—that can execute the same tricky maneuvers.

This new, miniature flying robot is the first of its kind, and it's providing researchers with new ways to study the flight of nature's smallest flying insects. Kevin Ma and colleagues, who designed the robot, say that it handles like a real fly and that it can even hover steadily in place.

To build such a tiny robot with little flapping wings, though, the researchers had to use some non-traditional approaches. The wings, for example, were made from a special material, and the robot must remain connected to a small power source by a wire.

Interestingly, Ma and his colleagues report that the tiny flying robot eats up about 19 milliwatts of electricity during its flight, which is about as much as a real flying insect does.