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 for the environment in general, since maintaining food production depends on it. 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, both for the conservation of species and for the pollination process. A group of researchers from the University of Tampere in Finland had the idea of 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 also has a small and soft body. Engineers have long used materials of this type to make small robots capable of walking, jumping, and even 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, leader of the group, and Jianfeng Yang, created a new design for their project called 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 explained in a statement .
Jianfeng Yang / Tampere University
This robot has a weight of just 1.2 milligrams and a structure with porosity of 0.95% , which allows it to easily float 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 be used to change the shape of the tiny robotic structure. In this way, HADA also adapts manually to change force and direction as well as takeoff and landing actions.
However, since it is controlled by light, scientists will now have to work on improving the sensitivity of the device to allow it to work in direct sunlight. And soon after they will add micro GPS and tiny sensors as well as biochemical compounds.
Jianfeng Yang / Tampere University
According to Zeng, this idea that 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 that the little 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 towards 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.