Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Become a sustaining member and you could win a trip to Barbados!

Why Scientists Aim To Make A Drone Nearly As Small As A Mosquito



The reason it is so hard to kill a mosquito is that they move really well. Scientists are trying to build a robot with that kind of agility.

KEVIN CHEN: I spend a lot of time looking at the flapping wing physics - that is, understanding how an insect can flap their wings and generate lift and drag forces.


Kevin Chen is an assistant professor at MIT. He leads a team that has invented a new microdrone not quite as tiny as a mosquito.

CHEN: The weight of this robot and the physical size looks pretty much like a dragonfly.

KING: But like a dragonfly, it is really resilient. It has a soft, muscular mechanism called an actuator that powers the wings for flight.

CHEN: Even though I will crash (ph) I'll land, right? Or it may run into a ceiling. Or it can run into a war. The rigid robot have a very hard time trying to dealing with those collisions, whereas because our soft power robot is very robust, of course, we can do interesting maneuvers, such as doing a somersault. We can survive collisions and et cetera.

INSKEEP: Doing somersaults. Mr. Chen envisions a time when his insect-sized drone could be used as a search-and-rescue robot to find survivors in disaster debris that bigger drones couldn't reach.

CHEN: For example, if you think about the scenario in which we have, you know, building collapsed, people have been trapped inside of that building. How do we do a search-and-rescue task to figure out where are the people being trapped under the building?

KING: Enter the insect drone.

CHEN: Hopefully they can see the person now who was trapped inside and then correctly send information back so we have a good idea about where the person is trapped.

KING: Would be small but mighty. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.