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A robot flies like a fairy to pollinate plants

It resembles a fairy and is the first soft robot capable of flying in the wind controlled by light beams: inspired by the woolly dandelion seeds, in the future it could be used in precision agriculture to artificially pollinate plants. It has been announced  in a study by the Tampere University in Finland. published in the journal Advanced Science

The small robot FAIRY (Flying Aero-robot based on Light Responsive Materials Assembly) is made with special polymers that react to light stimuli and which so far had been used to build soft robots capable of walking, swimming and jumping. No one had managed to make them fly before. Drawing inspiration from dandelion seeds, the researchers led by Hao Zeng have created a robot with a porous and light structure (1.2 milligrams) thatcan easily float in the air according to the direction of the wind and is able to travel great distances.

“The actuator is made of light-responsive liquid crystalline elastomer, which induces opening or closing actions of the bristles upon visible light excitation”, explains Zeng. FAIRY can be powered and controlled with a light source, such as a laser beam or a LED. This means that light can be used to induce a change in the shape of the robot to adapt it to the direction and force of the wind. Through a beam of light, it is also possible to control the take-off and landing phases. The researchers' next goal is to increase the sensitivity of the polymer material so that the robot can operate in sunlight. In addition, its structure will have to be made biodegradable and larger, in order to carry on-board devices such as GPS and sensors.



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