|The Harvard Microbiotics Lab developed this tiny
semi-autonomous inset robot, but it is currently
incapable of flying without a tether
Now, this is pretty weird. Rumors have been floating around the Net for a while now speculating on whether or not tiny, dragonfly-like robots have been covertly monitoring recent political demonstrations and protests around Washington, D.C., and New York. Numerous protesters at multiple events have reported seeing the helicopter-like insectoid entities, fueling suspicion that something sneaky was afoot. Yesterday the Washington Post brought the story mainstream in the interests of solving the case. What did they discover?
Basically, if the claims are true, someone has made great (and secret) strides in the field of robots capable of mimicking insectoid flight—something that's currently incredibly difficult to do. Research teams at universities across the country including Caltech, Vanderbilt and Harvard, are all trying to reproduce insect-like flight in a man-made robot—some of them even for the intended purpose of surveillance. None, however, have gotten anywhere near the sophistication required to engineer the minuscule, agile critters described by the protesters.
The Post also mentioned one of Darpa's creepiest programs: the race to embed microchips in the brains of moths and butterflies in the pupal stage that will eventually fuse to the more developed adults' brains, enabling control over their actions. PopSci reported on this and other ways that bugs are being enlisted for defense earlier this year. Thankfully, said program is many, many years from realization.
As of now, no one has netted one of these mysterious creatures for study. Here's hoping a Homeland Security robo-bug pilot gets sleepy sometime soon and allows one to be captured. Until then, protesters, keep your eyes to the sky. —John Mahoney
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.