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U.S: Robotic Fireflies Takes-Off

Fireflies became the inspiration of the researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop insect-scale robots that have electroluminescent soft artificial muscles for flying in which the tiny artificial muscles that control the robots’ wings could emit the coloured light during flight.

The robots could communicate with each other using electroluminescence. If a robot is sent on a search-and-rescue mission into a collapsed building, for example, it can use lights to signal others and call for help.

“This is a major step toward flying these robots in outdoor environments where we don’t have a well-tuned, state-of-the-art motion tracking system,” said Kevin Chen, Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), MIT and the senior author of the study.

The ability to emit light also brings these microscale robots, which weigh no more than a paper clip, one step closer to flying independently outside of the lab. Because these robots are so light, they can’t carry sensors, so researchers must track them with bulky infrared cameras that don’t work well outdoors. They’ve recently demonstrated that they can precisely track the robots using the light they emit and only three smartphone cameras.

Large-scale robots can communicate using a variety of tools, such as Bluetooth and wireless, but the researchers were forced to consider new modes of communication for a tiny, power-constrained robot. This was accomplished by embedding tiny electroluminescent particles into the artificial muscles. The process adds only 2.5 per cent more weight to the robot without affecting its flight performance.

These scientists have previously shown how to construct soft actuators or artificial muscles, that move the robot’s wings. These robust actuators are created by stacking and rolling alternating ultrathin layers of elastomer and carbon nanotube electrodes. The electrodes on that cylinder squeeze the elastomer when a voltage is provided, and the mechanical strain causes the wing to flap.

The team incorporated electroluminescent zinc sulphate particles into the elastomer to create a glowing actuator, but they encountered several challenges along the way. Moreover, the researchers had to make an electrode that wouldn’t stop light from getting through. They made it with carbon nanotubes that are only a few nanometers thick and are very clear. This lets light pass through.

But the zinc particles only light up when a very strong and high-frequency electric field is nearby. This electric field gets the electrons in the zinc particles excited, which causes them to send out photons, which are subatomic particles of light. The researchers use high voltage to make a strong electric field in the soft actuator. They then drive the robot at a high frequency, which makes the particles light up brightly.

Adding zinc particles to the actuator prototype lowered its quality and made it break more easily while chemically combining zinc particles affects light colour that results in each actuator having a solid green, orange, or blue glow.

They altered the fabrication method so actuators could emit multicoloured, patterned light. After fine-tuning the fabrication process, they examined the actuators’ mechanical qualities and measured the light’s intensity.

They then conducted flight tests with a specially designed motion-tracking system. They intend to improve that motion tracking system in the future so that it can track robots in real-time. The team is working on incorporating control signals so that the robots can turn on and off their lights during flight and communicate more like real fireflies.

The study was supported by the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT and joining Kevin’s team are Suhan Kim, lead author and Yi-Hsuan Hsiao; Yu Fan Chen SM ’14, PhD ’17; and Ningxia University associate professor, Jie Mao.

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CTC Global Singapore, a premier end-to-end IT solutions provider, is a fully owned subsidiary of ITOCHU Techno-Solutions Corporation (CTC) and ITOCHU Corporation.

Since 1972, CTC has established itself as one of the country’s top IT solutions providers. With 50 years of experience, headed by an experienced management team and staffed by over 200 qualified IT professionals, we support organizations with integrated IT solutions expertise in Autonomous IT, Cyber Security, Digital Transformation, Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure, Workplace Modernization and Professional Services.

Well-known for our strengths in system integration and consultation, CTC Global proves to be the preferred IT outsourcing destination for organizations all over Singapore today.

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Planview has one mission: to build the future of connected work. Our solutions enable organizations to connect the business from ideas to impact, empowering companies to accelerate the achievement of what matters most. Planview’s full spectrum of Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions creates an organizational focus on the strategic outcomes that matter and empowers teams to deliver their best work, no matter how they work. The comprehensive Planview platform and enterprise success model enables customers to deliver innovative, competitive products, services, and customer experiences. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, with locations around the world, Planview has more than 1,300 employees supporting 4,500 customers and 2.6 million users worldwide. For more information, visit www.planview.com.

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SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

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HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 

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IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider. We help clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity and service.

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