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Robotic Lightning Bugs Take Flight

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The robots' electroluminescence could enable them to communicate with each other. If sent on a search-and-rescue mission into a collapsed building, for instance, a robot that finds survivors could use lights to signal others and call for help.

Credit: Kevin Chen et al.

Fireflies inspired researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and China's Ningxia University to build flying, light-emitting robots that facilitate motion tracking and communication.

The researchers designed soft actuators to control the robots' wings, and embedded electroluminescent particles within the actuators, which emit colored light when exposed to the robots’ electrical field.

The team used this light and three smartphone cameras with a computer program to track the robots' position and attitude to within 2 millimeters of cutting-edge infrared motion capture systems.

"This is a major step toward flying these robots in outdoor environments where we don’t have a well-tuned, state-of-the-art motion tracking system," said MIT's Kevin Chen.

From MIT News
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