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The Picobug, as its name implies, is small. It weighs just 30 grammes, but it can do a whole lot: fly, walk, and (very soon) pick up tiny objects. It’s the brainchild of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing & Perception Laboratory (GRASP).

Once the Picobug can finally grasp objects, then it can get down to business. Its creators envision it performing missions that would put Tom Cruise to shame, it Cruise was a small mechanical secret agent.

Rather than burst out unto the scene with all guns blazing, the Picobug will be able to covertly enter a building through a small opening, travel along the tiniest of pathways (say, a an air duct, or a clogged pipe), and arrive at its destination with a pygmy camera or other vital piece of equipment.

And it can do it all autonomously. Once its operators tell it where to go, the Picobug can figure out how to get there all by itself.

It all rests on the robot’s ability to pick up objects, and Yash Mulgaonkar, a roboticist at GRASP and the researchers behind the Picobug, say they’re close to developing the robot’s grasping mechanism. Then, once it can pick up objects, it will be ready for action.

And it’s designed to be able to do that action for quite a while. Due to its multi-modal ways of locomotion, the Picobug is very energy efficient. As walking requires about six times less energy than flying, the Picobug will only soar when it can’t saunter.

And the next generation will be even cooler, say the Picobug’s creators: “we envision the next generation of such devices to include other abilities, such as cutting /milling/machining, heating/cooling, deposition of glue, etc to facilitate a wider set of applications.”