Another expert says the Harvard team's finding will help make micro-insects to be built much more solidly, without wiggling joints and friction that can sap energy from the entire system. At small scales, any extra amount of friction can make it difficult for the robot to get off the ground, according to Sean Humbert, professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Maryland.
"If you have joints and mechanisms that have a lot of play in them and aren't assembled properly, the energy to drive the robot goes up significantly," Humbert said. "With very small robots, the size weight and power constraints are so great that you are lucky to get a battery in there, and maybe a processor. That's why this technique is important. With the pop-up stuff, you can build it more precisely and repeatedly."
Wood says there are plenty of other challenges to work on, such as a power system, before micro-swarms are ready for prime-time. Right now, all his micro-bees are on tethers.
"Flight at a small scale is energetically expensive," he said.