Insect drones known as micro air vehicles (MAVs) are being developed as the newest source of reconnaissance and spying, all at a miniature level. Currently, smaller drones have been researched by a variety of sources, from the U.S. Air Force to the Netherlands.
Insect drones were first publicly discussed in 2007, when small flying objects were reported above protestors, who thought they were being spied upon. Eventually, Tom Ehrhard, a retired Air Force colonel, came out and told the Daily Telegraph that "America can be pretty sneaky"- not a full admission, but rumors were brewing.
The next year, the U.S. Air Force unveiled "lethal mini-drones" insect spies "as tiny as bumblebees," according to Daily Mail. They were used to "photograph, record, and even attack insurgents and terrorists."
That was in 2008, however, and not much of the program has been heard from since. Insect drones have not been known to be tested in actual combat or reconnaissance situations- a step propelled forward by researchers recently.
The University of Pennsylvania's GRASP Lab recently unveiled their insect-like drones, which function with "little or no direct human supervision" in "dynamic, resource-constrained, adversial environments." Their drones, though, operate in groups called SWARMS and include 20 nano quadrotors flying simultaneously.
The U.S. is far from the only country interested in technology that mimics nature in order to remain undetected. The Netherlands has a project called BioMAV- Biologically Inspired A.I. for Micro Aerial Vehicles- which managed to get drones down to a parrot's size.
Now scientists are looking more towards imitating nature than trying to surpass it. By studying the way insects' wings work, a researcher at Oxford University has gained insight into the way future drones will be made.
"Nature has solved the problem of how to design miniature flying machines," Daily Mail quoted zoologist Richard Bomfrey as saying last year. "By learning those lessons, our findings will make it possible to aerodynamically engineer a new breed of surveillance vehicles that, because they are as small as insects and also fly like them, completely blend into their surroundings."