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RoboBee Is The World's First, And Smallest, Robot Insect (VIDEO)

03/05/2013 08:43 BST | Updated 02/07/2013 10:12 BST

Yesterday we brought you the robotic bird so realistic it got attack by an actual hawk.

Today we bring you something even cooler - and far, far smaller.

The RoboBee is the world's first robotic insect capable of controlled, sustained flight.

The tiny device made by Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is little bigger than a five pence piece and weights less than a tenth of a gram.

The concept isn't new, but until now it hasn't been possible to control its flight in a regular, predictable way.

But now the team has worked out how to control its wings with 'piezoelectric actuators', allowing far more precise movements. The new wings flap 120 times a second, controlled not by a motor but strips of ceramic that expand and contract when electric current is applied.

"This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12 years," said Robert J. Wood, a 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."

The next prototypes will seek to improve the battery capacity, intelligence and cooperative behaviour of the devices, which one day could be used for everything from search and rescue to military intelligence.