Robobees: Building an Autonomous Colony of Flying Microbots

By: | July 3rd, 2013

Roboticists have long used insects, fish and small animals as ideal models for building small robots leading to innovations in areas including entomology, computing and electrical engineering.

The Harvard Robobee Project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In an article in scientific American in March 2013 the project’s members discuss the complexity of building and controlling tiny robots. One central problem is that any power source capable of running the robots is too heavy for flight to take place.


As a result, these researchers have been involved in the design of miniature robots powered wirelessly by very small high energy sources including solar powered wings; this has been combined with advances in ultra low power computing and electronic sensors. Scientists and engineers are attempting to re-create the collective behavior of bee colonies. At the heart of this project is an attempt to re-create and build a bee’s nervous system in electronic form.


  • Folding joints: 22
  • Assembly scaffold folding joints: 115
  • Total device folding joints: 137
  • Number of brass pads for “glue” points: 52
  • Total number of “glue” points: 24
  • Mass: 90 mg
  • By mass, one U.S. quarter = 63 Harvard Monolithic Bees

Practical Applications

Essential to the project is the creation of behaviors of real bee colonies. Scientists, concerned about the recent decline in the bee population, believe that autonomous pollinating of field crops, search and rescue tasks, hazardous environment exploration, military surveillance, and weather, climate and traffic monitoring are all possible.

David Russell Schilling

David enjoys writing about high technology and its potential to make life better for all who inhabit planet earth.

More articles from Industry Tap...