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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Credit: Eliza Grinneell

Robert Wood, 31

Building robotic flies

Harvard University

Robotic flies equipped with cameras, microphones, and other sensors would be a spy's dream. But researchers have had trouble creating the materials needed to make robots that look and behave like real insects. Robert Wood, an assistant professor of engineering and applied sciences, took on the challenge: he developed a revolutionary fabrication technique that allows engineers to make a range of very tiny parts for any kind of robot.

Wood's technique bears similarities to origami. To create three-dimensional structures that bend and rotate precisely as needed--not only for flying robots, but also for crawlers and swimmers--Wood builds "fold lines" into layered composites of materials such as polymers or carbon fiber. Last year he used the method to build the world's smallest robotic insect capable of taking off. It is powered and controlled externally, but he plans to develop an onboard power source and sensors, and to refine the robot's control systems. Wood's ultimate goal is a fully autonomous robotic insect. --Kristina Grifantini

2008 TR35 Winners

Blaise Agüera y Arcas

Building immersive 3-D environments

Dries Buytaert (video)

Simple, flexible Web publishing

Jenova Chen (video)

Gaming with the flow

Tanzeem Choudhury (video)

Inferring social networks automatically

Jack Dorsey (video)

Personal updates made simple

Stefanus Du Toit (video)

Programming for parallel processors

Seth Hallem

Deconstructing software to find bugs

Xian-Sheng Hua

Enhancing video search

Sundar Iyer

Making memory at Internet speed

Farinaz Koushanfar

Locking microchips to prevent piracy

Johnny Lee (video)

Streamlining human-computer interactions

Meredith Ringel Morris (video)

Searching websites jointly

Andrew Ng

Building household robots

Adam Smith (video)

Making sense of e-mail madness

JB Straubel (video)

Engineering electric sports cars

Eric Wilhelm (video)

Putting DIY projects online

Robert Wood (video)

Building robotic flies

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