Harvard’s robotic flying bee has been in development for well over a decade now. And despite its incredibly simple design, over the past few years, its creators have improved Robobee’s capabilities, adding abilities such as the ability to hover and even steer itself down a pre-determined flight path. It’s too tiny to carry its own batteries and has been long reliant on a connected power cable. But last August, for the first time ever, Robobee made its first flight without a wire tether.
It wasn’t necessarily the most spectacular flight, however. Instead of soaring across the laboratory, buzzing past researcher’s ears, Robobee lifted off for a mere second under its own power before falling out of the sky—saved from a crash landing by an emergency kevlar safety wire. To achieve this feat, RoboBee received a couple of key hardware upgrades last year, including the addition of two extra wings, bringing the total to four, which contributed to a 38 percent boost in lifting power. It also got the smallest set of solar cells you can buy, weighing in at just 10 milligrams.