Dayton: If only we could be a fly on the wall when our enemies are plotting to attack us. Better yet, what if that fly could record voices, transmit video and even fire tiny weapons?
That kind of James Bond-style fantasy is actually on the drawing board. US military engineers are trying to design flying robots disguised as insects that could one day spy on enemies and conduct dangerous missions without risking lives.
“The way we envision it is, there would be a bunch of these sent out in a swarm,” said Greg Parker, who helps lead the research project at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. “If we know there’s a possibility of bad guys in a certain building, how do we find out? We think this would fill that void.”
In essence, the research seeks to miniaturise the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle drones used in Iraq and Afghanistan for surveillance and reconnaissance.
The next generation of drones, called Micro Aerial Vehicles, or MAVs, could be as tiny as bumblebees and capable of flying undetected into buildings, where they could photograph, record, and even attack insurgents and terrorists.
By identifying and assaulting adversaries more precisely, the robots would also help reduce or avoid civilian casualties, the military says.
Parker and his colleagues plan to start by developing a bird-sized robot as soon as 2015, followed by the insect-sized models by 2030.
The vehicles could be useful on battlefields where the biggest challenge is collecting reliable intelligence about enemies.
“If we could get inside the buildings and inside the rooms where their activities are unfolding, we would be able to get the kind of intelligence we need to shut them down,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia.