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At Science Daily: Robotic lightning bugs take flight

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Inspired by fireflies, researchers create insect-scale robots that can emit light when they fly, which enables motion tracking and communication.

Fireflies that light up dusky backyards on warm summer evenings use their luminescence for communication — to attract a mate, ward off predators, or lure prey.

These glimmering bugs also sparked the inspiration of scientists at MIT. Taking a cue from nature, they built electroluminescent soft artificial muscles for flying, insect-scale robots. The tiny artificial muscles that control the robots’ wings emit colored light during flight.

Robotic lightning bugs

The ability to emit light also brings these microscale robots, which weigh barely more than a paper clip, one step closer to flying on their own outside the lab. These robots are so lightweight that they can’t carry sensors, so researchers must track them using bulky infrared cameras that don’t work well outdoors. Now, they’ve shown that they can track the robots precisely using the light they emit and just three smartphone cameras.

A light-up actuator

These researchers previously demonstrated a new fabrication technique to build soft actuators, or artificial muscles, that flap the wings of the robot. These durable actuators are made by alternating ultrathin layers of elastomer and carbon nanotube electrode in a stack and then rolling it into a squishy cylinder. When a voltage is applied to that cylinder, the electrodes squeeze the elastomer, and the mechanical strain flaps the wing.

To fabricate a glowing actuator, the team incorporated electroluminescent zinc sulphate particles into the elastomer but had to overcome several challenges along the way.

“We put a lot of care into maintaining the quality of the elastomer layers between the electrodes. Adding these particles was almost like adding dust to our elastomer layer. It took many different approaches and a lot of testing, but we came up with a way to ensure the quality of the actuator,” Kim says.

Adjusting the chemical combination of the zinc particles changes the light color. The researchers made green, orange, and blue particles for the actuators they built; each actuator shines one solid color.

They also tweaked the fabrication process so the actuators could emit multicolored and patterned light. The researchers placed a tiny mask over the top layer, added zinc particles, then cured the actuator. They repeated this process three times with different masks and colored particles to create a light pattern that spelled M-I-T.

Science Daily

Would someone seeing this device have trouble recognizing that it was intelligently designed?

from the video:
if sent on search-and-rescue mission, for example, a robot that finds survivors ....
Has anybody noticed the super-thin wires the robot is connected to ? Yes, this is how the robot is powered. MIT-guys, some of the best engineers in the world, need wires instead of batteries, because if they would use batteries, the robot would be to heavy to lift off. Actually, even the power cables have to be so super-thin (lightweight), otherwise, there will be the same problem, the robot would be to heave to lift off ... So i have a silly question: How these robots could be sent to search-and-rescue mission, when connected to cables ? :)))))))) I am glad for this video ... it perfectly illustrates that ANY man-made insect-scale robot is a joke when compared to God's design. The best engineers in the world from MIT, struggle to solve the most basic engineering problems, e.g. how to power such a tiny flying robot. Not to mention, that this robot is not that tiny ... it is a giant when compared to a mosquito... and, a mosquito is fully autonomous, self-navigating flying system, and can 'recharge' itself by drinking blood ... and self-replicates :))) What an engineering masterpiece ! Even in 21st century, to engineer a mosquito-scale robot, with all the mosquito features, tiny compound eyes/cameras, CO2 detector, suction pump, etc., this is an engineering SCIFI.... martin_r
Fascinating, but seversky thinks question-begging and equivocation is an argument. ET
Fascinating work but it looks like evolution got there long before intelligent design, like at least a hundred million years before Seversky

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