The Washington Post has given me something new to try not to think about during every waking hour in a recent article on robotic insects and their potential uses as spies.
At recent political events and rallies in New York and Washington there have been several suspiciously similar sightings reported of large, robot-like insects hovering just above the participants, sparking paranoia that the Department of Homeland Security might be using high-tech surveillance tools to spy on American citizens.
That last paragraph was a very long sentence, with at least one extended example of alliteration.
It has also been argued that these are, in fact, sightings of dragonflies. And, as strong as my inherent distrust of governments and insects is, when you compare the number of tiny government robots out there to the number of actual insects, this second theory seems pretty likely. Nonetheless, the Post article offers a pretty interesting look at some of the developing “robobug” technologies out there.
The Defense Department documents at least 100 models of flying robots in use today, ranging in size from something like a small plane to a songbird. The conventional rules of robotics, however, don’t work very well on a smaller scale, so making a robot as tiny as an insect is much more complicated. The CIA developed a four-winged dragonfly-like device as early as the 70s, which flew under the power of a tiny gas engine, but was abandoned due to its inability to cope with crosswinds. Several universities have since created palm-sized fliers, and a team at Harvard got a tiny fly-like robot airborne in July, its tiny, laser-cut wings flapping at 120 beats per second. It weighed only 65 milligrams, but it couldn’t be piloted, and was tethered by a power-supply cord.
Other researchers, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, have directed their efforts towards creating cyborg bugs, inserting microchips into the pupae of moths. The thought is that the nerves of the moths could grow into the chips, and that they could then be controlled and fitted with a tiny camera (or whatever). DARPA also has a similar project with beetles, where the muscles of the insects would generate the energy needed to power the various instruments they could carry. At a symposium in August, a DARPA project manager said of the research, "You might recall that Gandalf the friendly wizard in the recent classic 'Lord of the Rings' used a moth to call in air support. This science fiction vision is within the realm of reality." Even assuming that the DARPA spokesman wasn’t referring to a giant magical eagle when he mentioned “air support,” this is a very funny statement.
There are even rumors that the CIA and other organizations have developed insect robots that exist in your brain and prevent you from being productive by forcing you to think about them constantly. These robots are manufactured and reproduced by your own imagination, and, reportedly, can only be dealt with by chemical abuse and other hobbies.