It was created to be an artificial pollinator.
Many insects, such as bees and some birds and bats, go from flower to flower, collecting and distributing pollen, making it possible for plants to grow and bear fruit. Pollination is very important for agriculture and the environment since maintaining food production depends on that. Therefore, pollinators are just as important. Unfortunately, factors such as the use of pesticides are killing these little animals.
Faced with the drastic reduction in their populations, scientists are looking for solutions and alternatives for the conservation of species and pollination. A group of researchers from the University of Tampere in Finland proposed creating a tiny robot that could do the same as bees.
They finally developed the first passive flying robot with an artificial muscle. It is made of a polymer that responds to stimuli. This allows it to be controlled wirelessly and has a small, soft body. Engineers have long used materials of this type to make small robots capable of walking, jumping, and swimming. But now, they have also made them fly.
The Light Robots research group at the University of Tampere found a way to make smart materials fly. Hao Zeng, the group leader, and Jianfeng Yang created a new design for their project, FAIRY (Flying Aero-robots based on Light Responsive Materials Assembly) or HADA in Spanish (Flying Aero-robots based on light-sensitive materials assembly). Light). In short, it is a polymer robot that flies in the wind and is controlled by light.
HADA intends to be a substitute for natural pollinators. It is a kind of seed with a soft actuator. “The actuator is made of light-sensitive liquid crystalline elastomer, which induces opening or closing actions of the bristles upon excitation of visible light,” Hao Zeng stated.
This robot has a weight of just 1.2 milligrams and a structure with a porosity of 0.95%, which allows it to float easily in the air. In addition, it generates a ring of separate and stable vortices that allow it to travel long distances.
HADA is controlled with a light source such as a laser beam or an LED.
This means that a beam of light can change the shape of the tiny robotic structure. This way, HADA adapts manually to change force, direction, and takeoff and landing actions.
However, since it is controlled by light, scientists will now have to work on improving the device’s sensitivity to allow it to work in direct sunlight. And soon after, they will add micro GPS, tiny sensors, and biochemical compounds.
According to Zeng, this idea still seems to be taken from a science fiction movie; It is intended to be a great solution to the pollination crisis. He is sure the small robot they have developed “represents an important step towards realistic applications suitable for artificial pollination.”
His idea is that in the future, billions of these pollen-laden FAIRIES will be freely dispersed by the wind and directed by light toward specific areas waiting for pollination. This would generate a gigantic impact on world agriculture, which suffers due to the loss of populations of pollinating insects.
Despite the fact that HADA is an extremely promising project, there are still many details to refine. HADA began development in September 2021, but research will continue until August 2026.