I'll bee back: Boffin's bionic bug Band-Aid after real ones all die

Plus: Leaping robotic spiders, anyone? No?

From the department of "just because we could, doesn't mean we should" comes news that researchers are planning swarms of robotic bees and spiders.

Insisting that micro robots "really aren't anything to worry about", Dr Mostafa Nabawy, Microsystems Research Theme Leader at the University of Manchester and bionic-bug-botherer-in-chief, presented some of his research at the Industry 4.0 Summit yesterday.

With the title "Spiders Attack: The rise of bioinspired microrobots", the presentation will clearly cause no concern at all.

Thankfully, other than a few spidery prototypes, the bots have yet to make much progress beyond theory and simulation.

Dr Nabawy has form in the arena of robot bugs, with a 2015 thesis on the design of insect-scale flapping wings and also has a background in aerodynamics and aircraft design.

His aim is to create a robot bee that can fly independently, eventually creating a swarm of the bots to offset the impact of the decline in the population of the actual creatures.

These tiny machines could then take on the dual duties of pollinating crops and ruining picnics.

pollen drone concept

Stick glue on a drone. Fly it into a flower. World hunger solved, bee-lieve


A team in Japan is also working on solutions to the pollination problem using more traditional drone technology. However, Manchester's micro-bees are undoubtedly cooler.

Nabawy's ambitions do not stop at bees. He imagines micro-robotic spiders being used in engineering and manufacturing.

Arachnophobes should probably look away now.

Boffins have been taking a close look at the jumping spider Phidippus reglius and "have trained it to jump different distances and heights" while recording the movements in detail. The data can then be used to model robots with the same abilities.

Prototype spiderbots already exist that can jump several centimetres, and the real thing can jump six times longer than its own body length. Far better than the abilities of a puny human.

Those fearing an imminent invasion of insectoid robot overlords should take solace in Dr Nabawy's comment that "we are some way off swarms of flying mechanical bees and armies of mechanical spider bots".

It might be worth investing in some fly swatters, though. Just in case. ®

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