CAD, Laser Milling Technologies Create Pop-up Robotic Bees
Researchers at Harvard have come up with a novel manufacturing process that uses CAD models and laser milling to economically produce small-scale flying robots. First off the miniature assembly line — robotic bees!
The Harvard Microrobotics Lab has come up with a manufacturing process that could enable industrial-scale microbot production. Sheets of carbon fiber, titanium, plastic and other materials are laser cut and sandwiched together to create the tiny robots. The robots are then pressed into a 3D shape using pop-up folding and locking in a process the researchers have compared to origami or a pop-up book.
This replaces what had been a painstaking manual construction process, although the CAD drawing process is fairly time consuming, since the design incorporates both flat and 3D components.
The initial microbot created via this process is called the Monolithic Bee (Mobee), and includes a carbon-fiber airframe and titanium wings.
To design the robot, graduate students Pratheev Sreetharan and Peter Whitney had to hand draw CAD files for each of the 18 layers cut during the laser milling process. Eventually, the new automated manufacturing process will help the researchers add sensor, control and power components to the design with relative ease.
“This takes what is a craft, an artisanal process, and transforms it for automated mass production.” — Pratheev Sreetharan, Harvard
Once the robotic “bees” can operate autonomously, they could potentially be used as surveillance devices, or even to pollinate plants, just like their natural counterparts. The microbot group is also working with Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering to apply the process to the manufacture of laparoscopy and endoscopy instruments.
The production process will be described in an article in this month’s Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.
You can see a video of the pop-up fabrication process below:
Source: Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory