Robotic Dragonflies

Tom James @ 11-06-2008

Fans of one of Terry Pratchett’s early comic science-fiction novels The Dark Side of the Sun, will be familiar with the idea of robotic versions of insects being used as “bugs” to spy on people.

This is an idea that is being enthusiastically embraced by the US military, with many small UAVs in development for surveillance purposes.

And there is even more insect-themed biomimicry on it’s way from the labs: the dragonfly is of particular interest, according to researchers:

Dragonflies are one of few creatures that utilize four independently controlled wings to fly,dragonfly allowing them to hover, dart, glide, move backward, and change directions rapidly. Looking to understand such abilities, scientists at the Royal Veterinary College, in England, and the University of Ulm, in Germany, have developed a robotic dragonfly to measure the current flows over and under the wings at different flap cycles. While most of the dragonfly hovering scenarios were not efficient, the team found that if the lower wings are beating slightly ahead of the top wings, the double set of wings proves more efficient at generating lift, employing 22 percent less power to lift the same weight as a single pair.

Well good luck to them. Fortunately for privacy-lovers/paranoids it seems that practical fabrication of these insect spies is still some way in the future.

[story from Technology Review][image by Lori Greig]

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One Response to “Robotic Dragonflies”

  1. soundacious says:

    Terry Pratchett’s great and all, but I first read the idea in Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy (1974).