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Fly sized robots take flight. Benefits and Dangers

Updated on May 5, 2013
Fly-sized flying robot!
Fly-sized flying robot!

The future is here. Are we ready for it?

I don't know about you but I'm just absolutely amazed at technology. I grew up around it, my grandfather was a professor for a local college and taught in the computer programming field. As a young boy, he would bring me home the literal inner workings of computers and explain them to me.

"This is a vacuum tube son, this is a microchip, etc." Interest in technology ingrained itself into my psyche and has stayed with me ever since. Perhaps that's why I enjoy learning about the latest gadgets and doo-dads that are either being developed or are already on the market. I've always kind of known my way around technology.....knowing instinctively how things work.

Technology is quite the amazing feat of imaginative thinking. From Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, it's taken dreamers....nay... revolutionary thinkers to come up with this stuff.

Thomas Edison was once asked about his 9,000 failing tries to make a lightbulb and whether or not he should just give up on the whole idea. Paraphrasing, Edison replied, "I didn't fail 9,000 times, I just found 9,000 ways that the bulb doesn't work." After 10,000 tries, Edison succeeded in his full vision of the bulb and the world changed! Talk about a visionary!

What was the inspiration?

It was the insect world frankly.

The team took inspiration from the fact that insects are so small and usually tend to have smaller wings, yet they're able to fly through the air, even straight-line winds without too much trouble.

The question was, "Can we do the same thing in robotics?"

Historical breakthrough in robotics.

So here we are at this point in History and technology, taking a small step forward that will be a giant leap for mankind again (we've had a ton of these in the past 10 years haven't we?).

A Harvard professor named Robert Wood has just made a breakthrough in the realm of Robotics. He's been working for about 12 years to see his dream come true: Making a robot the size of a penny actually take flight!

Well I'm here to tell you that he's finally made his dream a reality.

Wood and his team at Harvard have succeeded in constructing the world's smallest flying robot to date and the results are staggeringly impressive. The robot is able to be remote controlled during flight and responds to commands accordingly. The video of this is quite breathtaking.

Does this technology scare you, amaze you, or both?

See results

How'd they put it all together?

Manufacturing is a tricky process in general, but even more so in terms of smaller scale. Things are not easier because it's smaller, as a matter of fact they can be almost impossible to accomplish. There have been many challenges because of this in trying to get the lil' robo-fly to work right.

So the team had to start from scratch and invent a new way to manufacture, which just so happens to be inspired by those fun 3-D pop-up books you like to read your kids! They devised a process that combined brass, ceramic, carbon fiber, and many other materials that could then be cut into sheets and circuits by a high-precision laser.

They were then able to tailor the sheets into anything they wanted to. So poof, out pops this nearly weightless little robot! (I'm still waiting for someone to make an actual Optimus Prime).

The one thing they still have to do is come up with an internal power source. As of right now, the device is still tethered to a power source by a tiny cord until they devise a battery small enough to fit it. But the team says they're currently working on it.

They had several prototypes that didn't end up working out but last in the Summer of 2012, they conducted their first successful flight at 3 am in the morning. Amazing results so far.

The design process.


It's definitely an amazing piece of hardware that could give us many benefits for the future:

  • Think Mission Impossible. Give our spies the ability to carry out covert operations much more efficiently.
  • Local law enforcement agencies could do the same, you could equip the thing with a miniature video cam to relay information back to be able to disarm a bomb or deal with a hostage situation. Think "fly-on-the-wall".
  • Theoretically if a plane in flight begins having trouble, you could fly one of these to an unreachable part of it during flight to relay the information on the problem. (Very unlikely right away, they'd have to affix this thing with an afterburner, but still...using that imagination.)
  • What are your thoughts below in the comments? I'm really curious. Give me benefits.


Okay, there's two sides to every coin.

  • In the wrong hands, there is no privacy. Your neighbors could snoop on ya. Gives a whole new shine on Peeping Toms.
  • Tyrannical governments could use this against their own citizens in some way. Think this is far-fetched? Most recently, Our own U.S. government has advocated using drones to kill U.S. citizens without arrest or trial. (I'm not talking about a bomb-strapping madman in the middle of his act.) Look this one up, they're talking about it now.
  • On the black-market, drug-dealers or anyone for that matter could own one of these and use them for illegal purposes.
  • The new G.I. Joe movie actually showcased a villain named "Firefly" who uses a variation of these robots to carry explosives and kill people with them. You never know these days.
  • Your thoughts on the dangers.


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    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      Absolutely montecristo, I'm blown away by how quickly we are advancing in this digital age. But like Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park when told that John Hammond's scientists were doing things that have never been done before in terms of genetics, "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

    • montecristo profile image

      Angel Caleb Santos 4 years ago from Hampton Roads, Virginia

      Great hub. Technology does have its pros and con.

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      I agree with you Au fait. Almost every time we invent something new to further the human race....some goofball with evil intent decides to corrupt it in the name of "progress". Usually it's cloaked in the guise of good intentions.....but you never know anymore who's up to what unless you know the content of their character already. Thanks so much for your comment and your stopby, sharing and the kitten caboodle!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 4 years ago from North Texas

      Just like other equipment is now available for people who can afford it to eavesdrop and snoop on other people, this will be too. We already have tiny video cameras and microphones, but these will be easier to plant because they can fly right into the environment somebody wants to spy on. If anyone notices it, will they know it isn't a real insect? Will it also be possible to eventually program these robots to bite people and make it lethal?

      There are so many things being invented these days and like so many things they can be helpful and useful or evil depending upon how someone chooses to use them. I think most things that are invented with the idea of being helpful eventually end up being abused.

      A fantastic article with interesting and amazing information. Voted up, interesting, and awesome! Will share

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      Yep, I think you're probably right Flourish. I could see the market going the other direction with the detectors, I this day and age, why make science fiction movies anymore when you have it in your own home? Great comment, I also hadn't considered the detectors. I'm getting some really good feedback on this hub. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      Mjennifer, I love your comment. I think you're right about the uses for pollination if need be. I honestly hadn't considered that and I find it to be a very intelligent response to the honeybee situation. I wish I could vote your comment up, lol. Thanks for stopping by.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Oh the uses, especially espionage -- international and corporate: taking tiny photos, recording, delivering a dose of deadly toxin in a clandestine manner! I can imagine that there will be a market for fly robot detectors as well.

    • MJennifer profile image

      Marcy J. Miller 4 years ago from Arizona

      This is very interesting. The filament / wire that is attached to these robots will definitely limit functionality, although I imagine it's only a matter of time until a small enough battery or fuel cell power source is available. Once that happens I imagine there will be military applications for them such as chemical delivery and observation. On the down side, there are thus implications for evil, such as chemical delivery ... and observation.

      I can even imagine agricultural use for them. With honeybee die-off an ever-increasing issue, imagine little robotic pollination devices!

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      I know, I think it's quite freaky and amazing all at the same time! I think it's perfectly fine to think about the consequences as well as the benefits for sure. Thanks so much moonlake for dropping by, I appreciate your comments, votes, and shares!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      You could open your door and have one in the house and never know it. It could case your house for a bad guy. That's just me always thinking about what could go wrong. I think it is amazing and enjoyed reading about it. Voted up and shared.

    • Kasman profile image

      Kas 4 years ago from Bartlett, Tennessee

      So I hear. I know that a lot of businesses in Singapore are pushing robotic technology as the wave of the future! Thanks so much for your comment and stopping by!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Interesting! Robotics is getting very popular here in Singapore....sciences are generally popular here. Thanks for sharing!