Researchers at Harvard John A. Paulson School have created a robot for the first time that can fly as well as swim through water. Though, creating a robot that can fly as well swim is a difficult task, it required combination of two contradictory designs, aerial and aquatic vehicles.

The biggest challenge is conflicting design requirements: aerial vehicles require large airfoils like wings or sails to generate lift while underwater vehicles need to minimize surface area to reduce drag.

RoboBee has been attached with insect-like wings that help it to generate strong vertical lift and move through air and also move underwater by minimizing surface area. Researchers at SEAS have been successful in creating a RoboBee on being inspired by Puffin, of the rare birds that use flapping motions of its wings to propel themselves through the air as well as water.

“Through various theoretical, computational and experimental studies, we found that the mechanics of flapping propulsion are actually very similar in air and in water,” said Kevin Chen, a graduate student in the Harvard Microrobotics Lab at SEAS. “In both cases, the wing is moving back and forth. The only difference is the speed at which the wing flaps.”

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