Meet RoboFly, the Mechanical Insect That Could Fly Climate-Saving Missions
By Marlene Cimons
This is one flying insect you don't want to swat. It doesn't bite, sting or spread disease. In fact, someday it could be a life- and climate-saver. In time, it could even be used to survey crops, detect wildfires, poke around in disaster rubble searching for survivors and sniff out gas leaks, especially global warming-fueling methane, a powerful greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Introducing … RoboFly!
It's the first robotic flying insect that lifts off without being tethered to a power source on the ground, unlike other flying robotics. It weighs just a bit more than a toothpick and takes off using tiny beating wings—not propellers, as drones do—driven by a laser beam. A minuscule onboard circuit turns the laser energy into electricity, which causes its wings to flap.
Right now, RoboFly only can take off and land—but cutting the cord is just the beginning, its inventors say. "Before now, the concept of wireless insect-sized flying robots was science fiction," said Sawyer Fuller, assistant professor in the University of Washington's department of mechanical engineering and one of its creators. "Our new wireless RoboFly shows they're much closer to real life."
The researchers presented their findings at the recent International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Brisbane.
The University of Washington engineers who created RoboFly check out their new tiny wireless flying robot. Back row (left to right): Yogesh Chukewad, Sawyer Fuller, Shyam Gollakota; Front row: Vikram Iyer, Johannes James.Mark Stone / University of Washington
Ultimately, the scientists believe their invention will have the ability to hover, perch on things and fly around by steering the laser, or by adding tiny batteries or perhaps culling energy from radio frequency signals. The goal is to direct it into performing specific tasks, such as surveying crop growth and detecting gas leaks. They even think it might be possible to equip them with smoke detectors so they can find forest fires more rapidly than larger robots.
"Studies have suggested that natural gas—methane—leakage may be so prevalent that it may actually be a worse greenhouse gas emitter per unit energy than coal," Fuller said. "This is because natural gas has a much greater deleterious greenhouse gas effect than the carbon dioxide that results from burning carbon-based fuel. My hope is that creating a technology that makes it convenient to find leaks will help them be patched up."
The scenario would work like this:
"You will be able to buy a small container of these little fly robots, open it up, and they will, all on their own, fly out and follow plumes in the air to find leaks," Fuller explained. "Once they have found one, they will land near it and start flashing a light. A human would then just need to look around to see where the leaks are. This would replace the painstaking and dangerous process of covering the area with a gas sensor by hand, which is how it is done now."
Mountain top sensor detects methane levels in the air above Los Angeles.NASA
The level of autonomy needed to do this is still a few years off, he said. "That said, I think it is going to be very possible," Fuller said "Nature has proven that it is possible in any number of species, from flies to vultures, to use the information carried in a chemical plume in the air to find its source."
The device also could have valuable agricultural uses, "flying down in the plant canopy, looking for disease and measuring parameters like humidity, with much finer detail than is possible with overhead drones, enabling a new sort of 'micro agriculture,' that could locally tailor the environment to optimize yields," Fuller said.
Thus, releasing the bug from its leash "was really a necessary step to enable them to fly freely and perform the applications we envision," he added.
Perching—staying aloft in the air with buzzing or flapping, landing and staying there—is another goal. "Perching is something we're interested in because that's a very efficient way to operate for a long time, and it has already been demonstrated on the RoboBee which still had a wire at that point," said Johannes James, a mechanical engineering doctoral student and member of the team. "We've already started there."
Robotic flies could alight on supports along a pipeline, or in a refining facility, for example, and perform long-term sensing along the length of the pipes, and then move elsewhere to collect more data, according to James. Also, since fluttering the wings eats up power, the ability to stay in one place without flapping would save energy, he said.
"This distributed sensing kind of operation gives you some big advantages over a single expensive robot for applications like finding hard-to-detect leaks," he said. "The ability to perch or move along the ground would help this by allowing them to operate longer."
Firefighters respond to a gas pipeline leak in Brooklyn, NY, 2016.Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit
The team used a narrow, invisible laser beam to power the insect, pointing it at photovoltaic cells attached above the robot, which converted the laser light into electricity. But the laser alone can't produce voltage strong enough to get the wings moving, so the scientists also designed a circuit to boost the voltage coming out of the cell enough to power flight. Eventually, the team hopes to use batteries as an energy source, "but for now they are too heavy for fly-sized robots."
"Future work, as far as power solutions, will include aiming the laser for sustained flight, gathering energy from ambient light levels for short flights and then recharging; and a third, which really excites me, is wireless power through coupled coils, somewhat along the lines of Nikola Tesla's Wardenclyffe and Colorado Springs projects," James added. "The third is hard to explain, but is certainly cool."
The scientists also placed a microcontroller in the insect's circuit that acts like a brain, telling the wings when to fire.
James pointed out that robotic critters might even enhance scientists' knowledge of real world bugs.
"We still don't understand very well how flying insects work," he said. "In fact, they're amazing when you think about it. That's where the RoboFly can lend a hand. Robots are very valuable to biological research, and developing a wireless RoboFly is a crucial step to understanding the behavior of actual insects."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Michael Svoboda
The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.
Watchdog Accuses Trump's NOAA of 'Choosing Extinction' for Right Whales by Hiding Scientific Evidence
By Julia Conley
As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.
- Lemurs and Northern Right Whales Near Brink of Extinction ... ›
- Trump Administration Approves Harmful Seismic Blasting in Atlantic ... ›
By Beth Ann Mayer
Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
- Should I Exercise During the Coronavirus Pandemic? Experts ... ›
- If Meditation Is Not Your Thing, Try a Walk in the Woods - EcoWatch ›
In Major Win for Indigenous Rights, Supreme Court Rules Much of Eastern Oklahoma Is Still a Reservation
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
- Federal Judge Orders Trump Admin to Give Native Americans Their ... ›
- Police Were Ready to Shoot Indigenous Pipeline Protesters in ... ›
- Climate Justice, Indigenous Rights Advocates Rally for Wet'suwet'en ... ›
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.
- Airborne Coronavirus Transmission Must Be Taken Seriously, 239 ... ›
- Trump Halts WHO Funding Amidst Criticism of His Own Coronavirus ... ›
- Here's Why COVID-19 Can Spread So Easily at Gyms and Fitness ... ›
- Is the New Coronavirus Airborne? A Study From China Finds Evidence ›
By Angela Nicoletti
The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.
- Global Frog Pandemic May Become Even Deadlier as Strains ... ›
- New Species of Diamond Frog Discovered in Remote Pocket of ... ›
- Frogs Are on the Verge of Mass Extinction, Scientists Say - EcoWatch ›