Robot Bees May Be The Future Thanks To The Harvard Robobee Project

Robot bees are being developed at Harvard University. 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. A colony of solar powered flying robot bees may be in our near future.

According to the Wyss Institute, “The demonstration of the first controlled flight of an insect-sized robot is the culmination of more than a decade’s work, led by researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.”

“This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12 years,” says Robert J. Wood, Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS, Wyss Core Faculty Member, and principal investigator of the National Science Foundation-supported RoboBee project. “It’s really only because of this lab’s recent breakthroughs in manufacturing, materials, and design that we have even been able to try this. And it just worked, spectacularly well.”

According to Scientific American, “Not too long ago a mysterious affliction called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) began to wipe out honeybee hives. These bees are responsible for most commercial pollination in the U.S., and their loss provoked fears that agriculture might begin to suffer as well.”

Robotic bees
Robotic Bees may pollinate crops in the future

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 is possible by robot bees. Harvard scientists believe these robotic bees will also be able to perform search and rescue tasks, hazardous environment exploration, military surveillance, high resolution weather and climate mapping, and traffic monitoring.

According to the Harvard University Website, “These are the ubiquitous applications typically invoked in the development of autonomous robots. However, in mimicking the physical and behavioral robustness of insect groups by coordinating large numbers of small, agile robots, we will be able to accomplish such tasks faster, more reliably, and more efficiently.”

The 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 center 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