According to research published in the journal Advanced Science, the brand-new robot known as FAIRY, which stands for Flying Aero-robots based on Light Responsive Materials Assembly, is the first flying robot made of soft materials that respond to light. It only weighs 1.2 milligrams.
The robot’s designers trust that it will be utilized to assist with reducing the deficiency of pollinators (like honey bees) that we’re currently seeing in nature. Dandelion seeds were the inspiration for the robot, and it should be able to be used in the same way.
Light can be used to control the FAIRY’s bristles’ spread when it is raised into the air. The ultra-compact robot then takes to the skies and may eventually spread out over a large area, just like the seeds it was built on.
According to a statement made by micro roboticist Hao Zeng from Tampere University in Finland, “The FAIRY can be powered and controlled by a light source, such as a laser beam or LED,” as reported by Science Alert.
“The proof-of-concept experiments included in our research show that the robot we developed provides an important step toward realistic applications suitable for artificial pollination,” the researchers write. “It sounds like science fiction.”
The FAIRY bot is able to breathe through the air thanks to its extremely porous and light design. It can also create its own vortex ring, similar to a dandelion seed. This improves aerodynamics and ensures that the machine can travel long distances on its own.
Because the shape of the flying machine can be changed to meet the wind, much like a ship’s sail, there is some control over it. However, unlike a drone, for instance, it cannot be directly piloted.
The robot’s bristly filament is made up of individual fibers that are only 14 microns thick. The bristles are connected by an actuator, a flexible component.
According to Zeng, “this artificial seed is equipped with a soft actuator, which is superior to its natural counterparts.” The bristles open or close when visible light is excited, and the actuator is made of light-responsive liquid crystalline elastomer.”
After testing them in wind tunnels and under laser lights, Zeng and his colleagues envision millions of these artificial “seeds” transporting pollen by wind and light toward pollinating trees. But there is still a lot of work to be done before that can happen.
The researchers are looking into ways to control where these FAIRY bots land more precisely and make them biodegradable. It is anticipated that the project, which began in September 2021, will continue its research until August 2026.
In hot, dry, and windy conditions, dandelion seeds are able to travel 10, and occasionally even 100, kilometers thanks to an innovative design that has been copied by scientists. Without a battery or any other form of external power, these FAIRY bots could carry out the same tasks.
According to Zeng, “this would have a huge impact on agriculture worldwide because the loss of pollinators as a result of global warming has become a serious threat to biodiversity and food production.”