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Sci-Fi Robotics Technology

Robotic Fly to Descend on New York 138

DeviceGuru writes "Harvard University's tiny microrobotic fly, hailed by its creators as 'the first robotic fly that is able to generate enough thrust to takeoff,' will be showcased at New York's Museum of Modern Art starting Feb. 24. The life-sized 'Flybot' reportedly has a wingspan of 1.2 inches (3 cm) and weighs a mere 0.002 ounces (60 mg). This project of the Harvard University Microbotics Lab has received funding from DARPA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which hopes to gain access to micro-miniature surveillance technologies."
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Robotic Fly to Descend on New York

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  • Won't be long now (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:24PM (#22138788) Homepage Journal
    The expression "I wish I was a fly on the wall when $EVENT happened" is soon to become reality...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      Bringing the rise of a new expression...

      "I wish my fly on the wall had batteries that lasted more than 15 minutes!"

      I don't care how small they make it, until it has hours of power in it, it's nothing but a expensive toy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by KublaiKhan ( 522918 )
        I mentioned in a comment down the page a bit that by the time they get a decent avionics package scaled for the thing, all that broadcast power research that folks keep talking about will have caught on, at least a little bit.

        Or perhaps they could take a leaf from that UAV design that was in the news a while ago that would supposedly leech power from distribution lines--a similar idea, but scaled down to fly size. You wouldn't need more than a few microwatts to power a fly, I shouldn't think, and you coul
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )

      The expression "I wish I was a fly on the wall when $EVENT happened" is soon to become reality...

      Would you believe 20 minutes into the future?

      Carter: What I wouldn't give to be a fly on that boardroom wall.
      Bryce: Well, you can if you like.
      Carter: What?
      Cheviot: to stop this now!...
      Carter: Bryce, what is this?
      Bryce: Oh, it's a bug. Well, a fly, actually. It was my graduation project when I was eleven.
      Carter: A mechanical fly?

    • ...robotic flies build you!
    • []

      Or, can it sing "Fly Like an Eagle"?

      I think I'm going to develop a window-border gunky misting system to keep this critters grounded, to gunk up their flappers. And, I'll design a "force field" to short them out if they pass the window sill.
  • Woody Allen: Waiter, there is a DARPA robotic fly in my soup!
    Waiter: Don't worry sir that GRU robotic spider on your bread will soon get him!
    • by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:28PM (#22138836) Homepage Journal
      An amusing notion, but keep in mind where the endpoint for this lies. There's two possible routes, as far as I can see:

      First is the Diamond Age route, where the 'bots go smaller and smaller until they get to the nanoscale, and we end up with 'toner' everywhere.

      The second is building a spider to catch the fly, building a bird to catch the spider, building a cat to catch the bird, et al., until you get up to the point where you're making little old ladies swallow equines to take care of a surveillance bug.
      • point where you're making little old ladies swallow equines
        How is a little old lady going to swallow a HORSE .... ? oh, I get ....'re sick!
      • Nah, we just use cellphone jammers to drop these damn flies; it worked great for Gordon Brown and that pesky 757 that flew overhead at Heathrow the other day.....
      • 'bots go smaller and smaller until they get to the nanoscale, and we end up with 'toner' everywhere
        Sounds like the plot of Prey [] by Michael Crichton.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Petaris ( 771874 )
        Take that one step beyond surveillance, it probably doesn't take much verve toxin on a tiny needle (fly bite anyone?) to kill a person. :/

        I know that this could be a bit paranoid of me to think this but then, perhaps not? :(
        • by Petaris ( 771874 )
          s/verve/nerve oops! And I even used preview. :(
        • by Thing 1 ( 178996 )

          Take that one step beyond surveillance, it probably doesn't take much verve toxin on a tiny needle (fly bite anyone?) to kill a person. :/

          I know that this could be a bit paranoid of me to think this but then, perhaps not? :(

          Hopefully, not.

          Once we achieve full molecular nanotechnology, we'll be able to create backups of ourselves. "I" will be a construct somewhere deep within the Earth; the body you see will just be an extension, with a large-bandwidth wireless connection between us, so that the body

      • "where you're making little old ladies swallow equines"

        Please, Jeez. Leave your sick little fantasies out of this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sm62704 ( 957197 )
      Waiter: "Ssh! Don't tell anyone, everyone will want one!"
  • Good bye privacy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DeeQ ( 1194763 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:26PM (#22138814)
    Welcome Big brother!
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      i just read the exibit was canceled.
      The robotic fly was eaten by their robotic cat.
    • I dunno - I'm sure these will get smaller, but this thing has a 1.2 inch wingspan - thats a hurking big fly.
    • Welcome Big brother!
      I, for one, OH FUCK IT!
  • That was quick. Extra text to take up time.
  • ...But a fly with a 1.2 inch wingspan would be pretty damn conspicuous where I come from.
  • I can't wait for the robot-themed remake of The Fly [].
  • She showed up the other day and put a few bullets in my Sony AIBO, My RoboSapien, and My LEGO mindstorm robot. She was mumbling something about a robot fly in NYC and skynet. I would be carefull you scientists, or she might be comming for you next.

  • Within 6 months, the Spy Store has a portable EMP generator to rid you of any flying spy devices. It will look like an odd cellphone and work like a radar gun that the police use.

    zzzzzzZZZzzttttt and the 'fly' becomes a lay still and collect dust
    • "zzzzzzZZZzzttttt and the 'fly' becomes a lay still and collect dust"

      You can kiss goodbye all of your, and your neighbours' electronics (PC, phone, car, pacemaker)... ...and say hello to the lawsuit...
      • by jstoner ( 85407 )
        I just got a Deep Brain Stimulation implant [], for treatment of Muscular Dystonia. Seems like a bad idea to have EMP when there are people walking around with wires in their brains. Might be deadly--hard to say. At the very least expensive--replacing the implants is no fun. One of those situations where you better hope you kill me, because you'll be on the business end of a lawsuit.
        • scary thought, but I think your right. Also, what about people with pacemakers. Reminds me of the early scene of The Core. not something you want to have happening.
  • by Dareth ( 47614 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:38PM (#22138990)
    They won't tell us when they start domestic "Fly" surveillance in the US. We will have to guess it will be sometime shortly before or after they outlaw flyswatters.

    I hope I don't get billed for all the lost government property that is swallowed by my cats!
    • Obvious solution to this problem: White House webcams.
    • I hope I don't get billed for all the lost government property that is swallowed by my cats!

        You can bet that your vet will bill you for extracting indigestible electronics from their intestinal tracts, tho. :)

        Then the FBI shows up at your door...

      • Bad form to reply to myself, I know, but anyone who is owned by cats knows about the chore of scooping out the cat boxes.

          One morning you're scooping them out, and you see a gleam of metal in a feces. Your first thought is "What *is* that?"

          Your second thought after dissecting the feces is "Hey, didn't I read about these on Slashdot a few years ago? Shit!" ... sorry

  • "Help me! Help me!"
  • by cliffiecee ( 136220 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:39PM (#22139014) Homepage Journal
    I just tried to visit the site again and triggered the old 'Bandwidth Exceeded' message. My bad....

    Yes, the little flybot does appear to work, although a) it's powererd externally, and b) it's on rails that only allow it to move vertically. The narrator of the video admits that [paraphrasing] "We're missing some things, like an independent, on-board electronics package to control it, and a suitable power source." Basically it's just a pair of (working) wings at this point.

  • Oblig (Score:5, Funny)

    by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:40PM (#22139024)
    Customer: Waiter, what's this fly doing in my soup?

    Waiter: Watching your every move.
  • by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:40PM (#22139030)
    Maybe a better venue would be to show it at The Museum Of Modern Fascism.

    On the other hand, your basic laws of scaling are going to be an effective law to limit the usefulness of these gadgets. The battery power goes down as the cube, while the air resistance is at least one power below that, so they're going to be mighty short-lived, like seconds rather than minutes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KublaiKhan ( 522918 )
      Keep in mind that another area of research that's getting attention at the moment is broadcast power--so you wouldn't have to have an onboard source, per se, but merely a collector to snag a couple microwatts from the local broadcast basestation. It'll probably take about as long for 'wireless' power like that to become popular as it'll take to develop an effective avionics package for the flybot, so that'll work out nicely.
      • Yeah, but isn't your inverse square law going to kill you? I mean, unless you're sitting 100 meters away from your flybot, aiming a 6-inch microwave dish antenna at it, trying to look innocent...
      • by Boronx ( 228853 )
        Just wait until real flies evolve to live off of broadcast power.
  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:42PM (#22139064) Homepage Journal
    I like this- I've written one of these into a book. I had it powered by a broadcast infrared beam aimed at it, and a character fools with it by blocking the beam, causes it to falter, and then is embarrassed because he was caught interfering with it while it was working :)

    If the surveillance culture thing bothers you, keep working on cracker tech so we can always tap into the wireless signal and decode it. Information restriction is going to be impossible. Information parity is where it's at (though it's not going to be a gift- it's probably always going to be a captured prize.) This will tend to create an 'information serf class' which gets lied to by people who are confident they won't be able to sort out the truth.

    Oh wait, got that. I mean in fields like medici.. oh wait. Well... more so :)
    • by spydink ( 256993 )
      These articles always remind me of the Invisible Boy from the 1970s Danny Dunn children's series.

      I can't wait to dig out my collection once my kids are old enough to read them.

      Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy []

      partial wiki excerpt:

      ISIT (the Invisibility Simulator with Intromittent Transmission)
      The ISIT probe resembles a dragonfly. The wings are used to collect microwave energy, which is beamed to it within a range of 2,500 yards. Flight is accomplished with jets of compressed air (it is not stated if the wings flap

  • ...the first robotic fly that is able to generate enough thrust to takeoff.

    If that one was the first it makes one wonder just how many robotic fly failures came before. And where are the spectacular crash videos? Like the ones from the early days of spaceflight.

    Yes, a truly proud chapter in the technological advancement of mankind. The day scientists huddled around their robotic fly and it spread its tiny, robotic wings and generated enough thrust to launch itself into history!

    Quick! We need to bo

    • by Avatar8 ( 748465 )
      Funny comments, but it makes me wonder. Isn't this really deserving of a world record for the smallest, mechanical device flying under its own power (as in thrust, not the external power source).
  • by ( 1108067 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:48PM (#22139172) Homepage Journal

    ... Your fly is down!

  • Life size? (Score:2, Insightful)

    Three centimeters wingspan is life-size? What kind of flies are they referring to? That's a pretty big fly. A real accomplishment would be a life-size, US house fly, ~0.5 centimeter wingspan.
    • Three centimeters wingspan is life-size? What kind of flies are they referring to? That's a pretty big fly.

      You should get out of the city more often. We swat 1-inch horseflies [] whenever we see them, because they bite the horses (and us, if we're slow enough) and spread Equine Infectious Anemia [] (aka "Swamp Fever", or frequently "Coggins" after the test used to detect it).

      If someone saw an inch-and-a-half specimen, they'd just think it was a little overgrown. Of course, normally when you smash one they splat
    • Have you ever seen a Horse-fly []?
  • Fly? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Bogtha ( 906264 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:05PM (#22139390)

    the first robotic fly that is able to generate enough thrust to takeoff

    So presumably its predecessors were called robotic walks then?

  • This could end up being really interesting.

    Crawling spider bots to check out the lays of buildings before the riot police go in, floating swimming robots to watch water pollution levels, I could even see them being used in pest prevention, using little robot drones to kill off unwanted pests. Sort of like Terminator, but for bugs.

    The real question is how are they gonna power these suckers?
  • by Wylfing ( 144940 ) <> on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:16PM (#22139554) Homepage Journal

    I am sure the comments will be flooded with alarmists screeching about black helicopter secret governments. I have a different opinion.

    I cannot imagine that any truly great surveillance technology (such as tiny robotic flies) won't be used for selfish purposes -- by all layers of American society. You know your manager wants to spy on you, why not spy on your manager if there's no chance of getting caught? Get some nice juicy dirt! Back-room dirty deals among politicians? It's on Youtube now!

    It's hard to accept, but we're hurtling toward a privacy-free society, including corporate board-rooms, Congressional meetings, NDAs (forget em), and whatever you do in your garage on Thursday nights.

    • You know your manager wants to spy on you, why not spy on your manager if there's no chance of getting caught? Get some nice juicy dirt! Back-room dirty deals among politicians? It's on Youtube now!

      We already know who the criminals are. It IS all on Youtube. The sad fact of the matter remains, however, that the bad guys have all the guns and write all the laws and hold all the prison keys.

      The criminals are still running the show and the jails are overwhelmingly filled with poor people. And anyway, robot
    • Hmm. Interesting idea

      Who would be prepared to sacrifice their personal privacy if it meant that all political/coporate interactions were public knowledge? Bribary, embezzlement, collusion... all could see the light of day..

      Hell, if that happened we might even get a free market!

      Unfortunately, I expect it might be a more one-sided loss of privacy in practice.
    • by CompMD ( 522020 )
      No, the character of Americans is better expressed by saying, "I'll do whatever I want in my garage on Thursday nights, and if you have a problem with it, you can take it up with my HERF gun or my Glock."

      Yes, I am an American.
  • ... is slowly descending upon us.
  • Considering CIA built a working dragonfly *INT platform back in the 70's (scrapped due to poor performance in even the slightest breeze), I suspect that this is but the latest (publicly disclosed) generation of such devices currently in use.
  • by bradgoodman ( 964302 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:33PM (#22139844) Homepage

    You can call it "crap" all you want - but guess what! This technology is really on its way - is very real and tangible

    I'm both an engineer and an R/C heli/airplane fan - and I've been pretty amazed at the kind of stuff that's been coming available over just the last few years - and I'm not talking "scientific research" but even commercial products you can find at your local hobby store or mall.

    Lets look:

    Batteries Crazy advances in odd things like Li-Po batteries and "supercaps" which are very light, small, and can charge very quickly.

    Motors Brushless electric motors with much greater power and efficiency. People are literally ripping their gas engines out of their 60-sized helis and replacing them with electric motors and batteries!

    Radios Spread-Spectrum radios which provide operation free of glitches and interference.

    Wireless Video Probibly because of the new CCD stuff from WebCams and the like - there are a billion wireless video "toys" out even for little kids - RC cars with "spy cameras", VEX robotic kits, etc.

    Gyros They keep getting better and better - cheaper and cheaper -helping with stability

    Servos Or the lack of 'em! glue a tiny neodyme magnet on a piece of foam and wrap a wire around it a couple times to control you control surface! They sell tiny foam RC planes based on this

    Stable Helis Counter-rotating helis that are extremely stable - allowing a complete novice to fly indoors quickly. You can even buy one a Brookstones for $29!

    And of course the radios and electronics are of course getting smaller and more integrated. This is an amaizing time for this kind of stuff - I can't wait to see what the next few years will bring!

    • If you want to learn how to actually use gyros and fly these things with spread spectrum... we are all on []
    • by Dr. Evil ( 3501 )

      It's amazing stuff.

      This robotic fly has almost none of it. The little fly doesn't even have a control system. It's about as meaningful as a propeller that can't even support its own fuel. There aren't even control surfaces.

      The guys who put it together must be embarrassed at the media attention. Cool device, but not revolutionary or anything.

    • "odd things like Li-Po batteries"

      First thought: Geez, they're putting Polonium in batteries now?

      After a quick googling: Nevermind [].

      Please don't call it that. Li is an element, and readers will assume Po refers to the element as well. Li-Poly is much less misleading.
  • All the privicy issues inherent with this clever peice of $300,000+ machinary can be defeated through the cunning use of those electrified tennis rackets.
  • in case the DeviceGuru URL isn't working, try this one []
  • if you haven't read it, you should go give Pierre Oulette's first novel a shot ... it's a little dated on some of the technology concepts, but some of the biotech/GE stuff is still beyond us for the foreseeable future. If you find the idea of robot (or better yet, cyborg) flies or even larger, stranger creatures interesting (especially when designed/powered by a sentient AI), you would probably enjoy the book. Read it back when I was in high school, and just ordered a copy from Amazon to fill an empty spot
  • Forget using these things for surveillance, if we really want to get rid of insurgents, just annoy the fuck out of them with these bugs. Send a swarm of these heat/smell seekers into a town and watch as the muj's throw down their arms just to keep the little buggers out of their eyes, ears, nose, mouth and "other" orifices.

  • Here is an unslahdotted video [] link.

  • we are going to see cockroaches with tiny satellite dishes attached to them?
  • I for one welcome our new robotic over-lords... of the flies.
  • Just in time, too. I invented the robotic fly swatter.
  • MIT probably has an army of free-flying, solar powered, 1/2 inch wingspan flies, zipping around the Harvard campus, taking miniature photographs.

    Or has MIT been outdone by Harvard on this one?

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