Robert Wood, a National Geographic 2014 Emerging Explorer and award-winning engineer, is working on entirely new classes of robots—including a fleet of tiny, robotic bees—that may one day transform space exploration, agriculture, and search-and-rescue operations.

Robert Wood:

So I want to begin with a bold statements that robotics is the next Internet. It's the next big thing to impact our lives in areas from medicine to even things like space exploration. The more traditional view of robotics is a rigid very powerful very dangerous, but in this case we're making things smaller perhaps faster or certainly cheaper than more traditional robotic systems. We are constructing robots the size of insects. Robots made out of entirely soft materials. We use nature to inspire the robots that we build. Nature's had hundreds of millions of years to evolve solutions to things like locomotion in cluttered areas or flights.

Our team is working on creating a colony of autonomous robotic bees. We envision that's twenty or so years down the road when these things actually exist they could be quite useful for applications where you would want to put a human or an animal.

Hazardous environment exploration in search and rescue space exploration assisted agriculture there's all these really interesting open questions that must be solved if you're going to achieve this goal.

I have to develop new sensors new computation methods because nothing off the shelf is going to work. We have to build everything from scratch. How many Robo-bees if we crashed all of them we build we test, we build we test if you don't fail you don't learn enough

we build we test, we build we test for everything that works is tens or hundreds of things that don't.

The metaphor of bees is just as social insects they're small they're not very capable they can't fly for very long so what do you do and the answer in nature is well you work together.

Now you have this concept where you have not just one all capable robot but you have a bunch of not very good robots. The idea is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts all of this work is aimed at the greater good investing in the unknown it's by far the best routes to make fundamental scientific advancements.


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