This is one flying insect you don’t want to swat. It doesn’t bite, sting, or spread disease and someday it could be a life- and climate-saver. In time, it could survey crops, detect wildfires, poke around in disaster rubble searching for survivors and sniff out gas leaks, especially global warming-fueling methane, a powerful greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.
It’s the first robotic flying insect that lifts off without being tethered to a power source on the ground, weighs just a bit more than a toothpick, and takes off using tiny beating wings — not propellers, as drones do — driven by a laser beam. A minuscule onboard circuit turns the laser energy into electricity, which causes its wings to flap.