One company has decided the ideal tiny drone should take its cues from the natural world of insects — specifically the dragonfly.
When Draper, an independent biomedical solutions lab, set out to make its own mini-fliers, it cut out the middleman. It got some of the insects and outfitted them with cutting-edge navigation, synthetic biology and neurotechnology systems to create a swarm of cyborg dragonfly drones.
The tiny hybrids are part of an internal R&D project at Draper called, appropriately, DragonflEye.
"DragonflEye is a totally new kind of micro-aerial vehicle that’s smaller, lighter and stealthier than anything else that’s manmade,” said the program's principal investigator Jesse J. Wheeler in an interview posted online by the company. “This system pushes the boundaries of energy harvesting, motion sensing, algorithms, miniaturization and optogenetics, all in a system small enough for an insect to wear."
The tech is all miniaturized in a tiny pack, which is fitted onto the insects' midsections. The system, which was developed in part with Howard Hughes Medical Institute, sends guidance commands to neurons inside the dragonfly nerve cord that are associated with navigation. It essentially takes control of the dragonfly's flightpath, giving the Draper team the ability to guide the insect wherever they want it to go.
Is there an animal welfare issue here? Not as far as traditional animal welfare legislation goes, because insects fall outside the usual list of species that enjoy the benefits of legislative protection.