Monday, April 25, 2011

Bots That Mimic Bugs!

Usually, when we think of robots, we think of these guys:

Or these guys:

Not of these guys:

And certainly not of these guys:

But the scientists at Harvard’s Microrobotics Lab and Self Organizing Systems Research Group think about robots a little differently, and if you join them for Bots That Mimic Bugs, you might, too.

“Robots in movies are usually evil,” Ben Finio, a scientist in the Microrobotics Lab, explains. Movies like Terminator have given people the wrong idea about what robots look like, how they work, and what they do.

“Most robots are used for things that are dangerous or boring,” Finio says. On the boring end, there are products like Roomba, a commercially available robot that can vacuum your floor for you. On the dangerous end, robotics is cultivating more and more fans among people who work on bomb squads or search and rescue teams. After a disaster, robots could help keep human first-responders out of dangerous environments, such as buildings that might collapse. Microrobots are especially useful in these situations, because their size makes them easier to maneuver.

The specific robots that Finio works with might accomplish a task that humans can’t do at all. He’s a member of the lab’s robo-bee team. They hope to someday create swarms of tiny robotic insects capable of pollinating crops and fields.

Robots modeled after insects and worms have other cool advantages, too. Check out this squishy, unbreakable worm.

Most of these inventions truly deserve to be called “micro.” The worm and the centipede are among the lab’s larger creations. Finio says that most of the robots can fit in the palm of a person’s hand, while the smaller ones can rest on a fingertip.

Come see a presentation about the squishy, scuttling, and flying robots that the lab is designing. Afterward, there will be hands-on, kid friendly events, including opportunities to build and interact with robots.

Bots That Mimic Bugs is a free event. It will be held on May 1st from 12:30 to 2:30 pm in Walker Memorial (building 50), 142 Memorial Drive, on the MIT campus.

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