By: Patrick Kiger
Back in 2007, antiwar protesters in Washington, DC noticed they said appeared to be insect-sized drone surveillance aircraft hovering over them. As a Washington Post article reported:
"I heard someone say, 'Oh my god, look at those,' " the college senior from New York recalled. "I look up and I'm like, 'What the hell is that?' They looked kind of like dragonflies or little helicopters. But I mean, those are not insects."
The Post consulted various government agencies, none of which admitted to having deployed robotic insects. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, however, had actually tried to develop such a device back in the 1970s--the insectothopter robotic dragonfly, which contained a tiny gasoline engine that powered four flapping wings. Reportedly, the insectothopter actually managed to fly, but reported was scrapped because it could not handle crosswinds. Perhaps as a result, Pentagon researchers veered off in a different direction, and began looking at attaching micro-electrical mechanical systems, or MEMS, to insects to create swarms of tiny, remote-controlled cyborg secret agents, capable of flying or crawling into enemy territory. (Here's a blog post that I wrote on that idea, a few years back.)