Elizabeth Farrell Helbing

Elizabeth Farrell Helbling

Assistant Professor
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Frank H. T. Rhodes Hall, Room 330


Countless science fiction works have set our expectations for small, mobile, autonomous robots for use in a broad range of applications. The ability to move through highly dynamic and complex environments can expand capabilities in search and rescue operations and safety inspection tasks. These robots can also form a diverse collective to provide more flexibility than a multifunctional robot. Advances in multi-scale manufacturing and the proliferation of small electronic devices have paved the way to realizing this vision with centimeter-scale robots. However, there remain significant challenges in making these highly-articulated mechanical devices fully autonomous due to the severe mass and power constraints. Helbling’s research looks at the integration of the control system, sensors, and power electronics within the strict weight and power constraints of these vehicles, taking a holistic approach to navigating the inherent tradeoffs in each component in terms of their size, mass, power, and computation requirements.

Farrell did her postdoctoral work at Harvard University and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering with Professor Wood. She completed her graduate work with Professor Wood in 2019, where she focused on the systems-level design of the Harvard RoboBee, an insect-scale flapping-wing robot, and HAMR, a bio-inspired crawling robot. Her work on the first autonomous flight of a centimeter-scale vehicle was recently featured on the cover of Nature, and can be seen at the Boston Museum of Science, World Economic Forum, London Science Museum, and the Smithsonian, as well as in the popular press (The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, Science Friday, and the BBC). She received her bachelor’s degree in engineering sciences at Smith College.

Research Interests

Selected Publications

  • Jafferis N*, Helbling EF* , Karpelson M, Wood RJ, “Untethered flight of an insect-sized flapping-wing microscale aerial vehicle,” Nature  570(7762), 2019. *authors contributed equally to this work
  • Chen Y, Zhao H, Jie M, Chirarattananon P, Helbling EF , Hyun NP, Clarke D, Wood RJ, “Controlled flight of a microrobot powered by soft artificial muscles,” Nature , 575(324), 2019.
  • Goldberg B, Zufferey R, Doshi N, Helbling EF , Whittredge G, Kovac M, Wood RJ, “Power and Control Autonomy for High-Speed Locomotion with an Insect-Scale Legged Robot,” IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters  3(2), 2018.
  • Helbling EF , Wood RJ, “Review of Propulsion, Power, and Control Architectures for Insect-Scale Flapping-Wing Vehicles,” Applied Mechanics Reviews  70(1), 2018.

Selected Awards and Honors

  • Rising Star in EECS, 2018
  • ICRA Best Paper Finalist, 2018
  • IROS Best Student Paper, 2015


B.Sc. (Engineering Sciences), Smith College, 2012
M.Sc. (Engineering Sciences), Harvard University, 2015
Ph.D. (Engineering Sciences), Harvard University, 2019