Small, smart and deadly, micro air vehicles swarm onto the battlefield.
Ron Fearing has the future of warfare at the tip of his finger. It isn’t pressing on the trigger of a laser death ray or button of a doomsday device. It’s holding a stubby-winged mechanical bug. “Flies are one of the most stable and maneuverable of all flying animals,” says the University of California at Berkeley biologist. “They are the jet fighters of the animal world.” The Pentagon shares this opinion and wants to turn these Bizzaro World duplicates of houseflies into real jet fighters.
The Berkeley team is one of about a dozen groups of engineers and biologists who are exploring the final frontier of flight: micro air vehicles (MAVs). By merging the aerodynamics of insects with GPS navigation and molecular electronics, they hope to initially create an arsenal of tiny reconnaissance tools. When perfected, Fearing’s stainless steel and Mylar robot flies will be able to flap their way into the most secret places on Earth—the bunkers where Saddam Hussein plans his genocidal campaigns, and where Chinese spymasters plot their raids on America’s nuclear weapons laboratories.