Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?

Tiny Flyer Navigates Like Fly 150

Assassin bug writes to tell us the Discovery Channel is reporting on a new ultralight autonomous aircraft that could be the next 'fly on the wall'. From the article: "The 10-gram microflyer, being developed by a team of researchers lead by Dario Floreano at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, has a 36-centimeter (14-inch) wingspan. But it could one day be shrunk to insect size and used for search and rescue."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Tiny Flyer Navigates Like Fly

Comments Filter:
  • by liliafan ( 454080 ) * on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @03:34PM (#15108055) Homepage
    It is kinda cool that they have developed this, but:

    But it could one day be shrunk to insect size and used for search and rescue.

    Who are they planning on rescuing? Commando Ants trained for search and destroy? I could even see this doing assasination missions, a little needle a nerve agent, but sorry search and destroy really?
    • Are you stupid?

      Finding anything by using a computer-controlled army of fast, insect-sized flyers would be a cinch.

      It would also make it somewhat easier to locate individuals trapped in say... rubble...
      • Why bother with a flying device if you're going into rubble?

        Wouldn't a snake be better? At least that way you could also run a pipe with water to whomever is trapped.
      • Autonomous indoor flight presents scientists with particular technological challenges that nature has already overcome.

        Search and rescue 'what' inside a building? Okay I kinda see where you are coming from with searching in rubble, but first we need to develop the star trek style teleporters to transmit the little airplanes through the rubble, erm yeah okay.
        • Ever notice how flies can get into your house through a tiny little gap in a screen? Or how mosquitoes come in even though you would swear that there was no way in whatsoever? If you could just get these things down to a size of about 2cm wingspan, and they could walk as well as fly, then they could get into collapse buildings, piles of rocks and/or bricks, and so on and so forth. Obviously this is a major undertaking, but it's not impossible given enough time and technological advance.
      • Actually, for flyers, try 'large area search'. They could blanket a forest fairly quickly for instance, and stay under the trees while doing so.

        As for 'search and destroy': All they need is a targeting beacon. Then you send the homing missle right to them...
      • I think the grandparent post was expressing a little scepticism about the fly-sized flyer being all that useful for rescue operations. Searching with such a device -- or a squadron of them, as you pointed out -- would be useful for the search phase but I doubt -- as did the original poster -- that they have the lifting capability to do much actual rescuing.

    • Maybe a little needle, a little ultra-programmable nerve agent that makes the victim grab the nearest incendiary device and go hog-wild.
    • Yeah, I like the Dune style kill bot Idea better. Perfect for hostage situations, or say, cave searching in Afghanistan. I think it'll be a few years before we can fit the necessary electronics on something small enough to crawl through rubble to use them for search and rescue. Or small enough to be inconspicuous, yet have powerful enough radio transmission abilities to send data back, or even store that data for later sending when in range.

      For now, Bird, and Rat sized bots for flying, and crawling respe
    • The strongest navigation sensors on a fly are those used to find carrion etc to lay their eggs. If you want search, without the rescue, then a fly will do well, unless it happens to fly near a [].
    • But it could one day be shrunk to insect size and used for search and rescue.

      It could also be used to annoy the hell out of your coworkers.

    • Who are they planning on rescuing?

      I think their first target will be the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. They got an anonymous tip that one or more of them would be harmed in the changing room.

    • They can search for survivors on a collapsed building, after an earthquake, for example. On this kind of situation, the faster you find the survivors, better are the chances that theyre rescued alive.
    • ..."Lost passengers from recent plane crash in swamp still searched for. Rescue teams blame 'unreliable flying microrobots that often suddenly fail and lose contact with base station' "...

      (*snip to "environmental issues" *) ...."More and more frogs and other small insectvore animals in swamp found dead from unexplained internal bleeding"...
  • search and rescue? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jszep ( 220212 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @03:34PM (#15108056)
    or search and destroy?
  • Other use... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by grumpyman ( 849537 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @03:35PM (#15108066)
    ... used for search and rescue.

    Like gun power, people will find ways to use them for devious acts.

    • Ah, I remember when they were using gun power to run trains and generate electricity, now they are using gun power to make bombs!
    • um, you can bet this was designed for devious acts
    • "Search and Rescu my ASS"... just another privileged "cover name" for some project...

      well, to deal with THAT bullshit, set up something like those Sharper Image-sold passive dusting machines. In this application, though, since the people launching these invasive little bastards, you need to spike your entire home and ventilation with undulating or coalescing waves that hopefully will destroy these critters.

      Maybe the Vector control UV boxes can help. But, hopefully, once one is caught in the wild, its specs
  • Typo. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @03:38PM (#15108094)
    > The 10-gram microflyer, being developed by a team of researchers lead by Dario Floreano at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, has a 36-centimeter (14-inch) wingspan. But it could one day be shrunk to insect size and used for search and rescue.

    Hmm. "Search and rescue". Silly Swiss, neutral, impregnably-defended, makers of great chocolate, but they can't even spell "surveillance" right on a grant application! Sheesh.

    • English is not the main language of Switzerland.
      A few languages spoken in Switzerland are:

      - Italian, in the south
      - French, at least in Lausanne
      - Rhaeto-Romanic (Rätoromanisch), in the mountains ;-)
      - Swiss German (the most important language)
      - German (related to Swiss German, but not the same)
      - English (many, if not most, learn it)

      Guess what language this is:
      "mi dünkt, Amerikanär si mängisch scho chli überhäblech" []
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The designers were apparently Danny Dunn devotees in their youths. Can a time machine be far behind?
  • by Horatio_Hellpop ( 926706 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @03:38PM (#15108104)
    "Tiny" Flyer ?? // 36-centimeter (14-inch) wingspan//

    Sorry, but even most drunken sots would notice a fly with a *14-inch* wingspan.

    Post this when the wingspan is 1/16th inch.
    • "Tiny" Flyer ?? // 36-centimeter (14-inch) wingspan//

      Sorry, but even most drunken sots would notice a fly with a *14-inch* wingspan.

      Post this when the wingspan is 1/16th inch.

      It's pretty small compared to most man-made flying machines - a 747 for example...

  • But... (Score:1, Funny)

    But will they taste good?
  • by NorbrookC ( 674063 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @03:39PM (#15108115) Journal

    search and rescue..

    "Well, we're lost. I hope someone is looking for us." (slap) "Damn bugs!"

  • Full Story (Score:1, Redundant)

    by slashkitty ( 21637 ) ot_tec.html []

    Why wasn't this linked in the post?

  • whoopie (Score:1, Informative)

    by alcmaeon ( 684971 )
    I made one of these when I was 5 from a little balsa wood kit they sold in the local supermarket.

    Difference was, mine had real wings instead of a metal hoop and had a rubber-band for the engine.

    • How was than an "informative" comment? RTFA: "To mimic the fly's vision, the researchers installed two tiny, low-resolution cameras, one over each wing. A microchip-sized gyroscope keeps the microflyer stable. Onboard signal processing and control software give the autonomous vehicle its insect-like behavior."

      That's almost like your balsa wood kit ;)

      Difference is, this research project sounds like its well on its way to being autonomous.

    • did yours avoid flying into the wall in a 7m by 7m room for over 5 minutes?
  • But it could one day be shrunk to insect size and used for search and rescue.

    Search and rescue my ass. This has spy toy written all over it, why can't we just say that?

    -Grey []
  • Metrics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Bollux ( 149340 )
    I like how the author converts 7m x 7m into 75ft by 75ft. Is that how flies see the world?
  • Easier idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @03:42PM (#15108144)
    Why build a fancy flight system to be swatted when we could just take a real fly, attach 2 tiny cameras (four if they're small enough, one for each direction) and a little zapper to zap its brain when it goes the wrong direction we want.
  • Yes... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Wellington Grey ( 942717 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @03:44PM (#15108166) Homepage Journal
    "Indoor environments are really tough," said Erik Steltz, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley... For example, in order to zip around indoor obstacles -- walls, corners, bookcases, furniture, ceilings, etc. -- a flyer needs to see the objects and have the brain power to steer away.

    Is there a different method used when outdoors? I've never been, so I don't know.

    -Grey []
  • by dbleoslow ( 650429 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @03:46PM (#15108183)
    Unshrink you?! Well that would require some sort of a REbigulator, which is a concept so ridiculous it makes me want to laugh out loud and chortle.. but not at you O holiest of gods with the wrathfulness and the vengence and the bloodrain and the "hey hey hey it hurts me"
  • obligatory (Score:1, Redundant)

    by endrue ( 927487 )
    but does it run linux?

    DSL maybe, or perhaps Feather Linux?

    - Andrew
  • Power? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @03:47PM (#15108194)
    It seems to me that the biggest obstacle to making miniaturized robots useful is not how you guide it but how you power it. The article doesn't address that issue.
  • by Anonymous Coward
  • S.W.A.T. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Bob3141592 ( 225638 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @03:48PM (#15108206) Homepage
    But it could one day be shrunk to insect size and used for search and rescue.

    Like everybody else has said, this has "spy on everyone" written all over it, in teeny tiny little letters. And naturally, once this new surveillance method is released onto the public, it will become a criminal offense to destroy one of these drones. And they'll know who just did the destroying too, of course. So the next time you hear that little buzzing sound, and raise your hand to swat at the annoying pest, expect a squad of storm troopers, er, police in full riot gear to arrive in the next moment.

  • To continue the "why not just use a real mule" line from the "Robotic Pack Mule" -story:

    Why not use href="">real insects like DARPA is trying to do. Makes more sense to me.
  • I can understand the draw of tiny fliers being used for various "search and rescue" (or surveillance) purposes. It's frequently easier and safer to send a remote device to find people before sending in the human teams. I can even see some anti-crime benefits; tiny flyer looks into building where hostages are being held to determine how many bad guys there are. But this thing is a plane, so it's a bad choice. It's not much use in the great outdoors if it's very small, because the lightest gust of wind is go
  • Didn't we already learn that mixing flies and machines only leads to an unmitigated disaster? []
  • Future worries (Score:3, Insightful)

    by boomgopher ( 627124 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @04:01PM (#15108302) Journal
    I wonder if our generation will be the last to enjoy physical privacy. With all the tiny nanotech, internet, webcams, etc coming - will our kids be numb to the fact that some pervert is probably spying on them from a ant-bot, etc.? Even in the shower, hiking, etc? Frankly, this bothers me as much as the thought of government spying.

    • I wonder if our generation will be the last to enjoy physical privacy. With all the tiny nanotech, internet, webcams, etc coming - will our kids be numb to the fact that some pervert is probably spying on them from a ant-bot, etc.? Even in the shower, hiking, etc?

      When this finally happens, i.e., when micro surveillance is so cheap, undetectable and ubiquitous that this occurs, and it's really only a matter of time, perhaps personal privacy, outside the context of private internal thought, will simply cease
      • by aminorex ( 141494 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @05:46PM (#15109182) Homepage Journal
        That seems a fair description of the future, as far as it goes. But you left out Orwells "boot stamping on a human face".

        Through the 20th century, power tended to centralize, inevitably. Technology is changing that. Now there is one fundamental struggle that underlies all human activity. It is not the struggle between Islam and Materialism, or the struggle between Marxism and Captialism, or the struggle between Rich and Poor, or the struggle between Democracy and Fascism. It is the technological race to develop effective weapons to support or to destroy the continuing centralization of power and control over the population. Obviously the vested interests of centralization are largely in control of the means of discovery and production, but the numbers of those devoted to opposing them are vast, and the need for organization is minimal. As long as the advocates of personal freedom are able to promulgate their ideas, their eventual success is therefore assured. Insuring that capability is therefore critical to the survival of value itself.
      • Like most creeping invasions of privacy in recent times, I predict that people will slowly but surely, simply accept that they will be videoed, recorded and logged while they sleep, eat, shower, walk, talk, pick their nose, urinate, defecate, flatulate, fornicate, contemplate, drive, high five and while they browse the net.

        And, when that happens, I plan on acting a whole lot more erratic and wierd than I do now. Just for the fun of it. Just to see what happens.

        And, most people who know me already think I'

      • As an aside comment, note that the shame of nakedness is just our current social tabou, in the past many societies didn't care about nakedness.

        It's possible that mass surveillance occur in the future but frankly I doubt that it will occur in the private space: there are still laws which protect privacy.

        In the public space, camera usage will increase of course.
  • Combine it with Microphone or a light sensitive system (does exist a camera+transmission system that small) and you have the ultimate spying tool, beside social engineering. Imagine the application. now you CAN be the proverbial fly on the wall watching over the should of people.
  • The search part I can see, but if I needed to be rescued, I'd prefer they send a helicopter.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Reporters were left scratching their heads back when The Patriot Act classified the use of sticky flypaper as banned munitions. Now we know why.
  • But it could one day be shrunk to insect size and used for search and rescue... ...from people trapped by bombs FROM TERRORISTS, of course.
  • Not tiny (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lord_Dweomer ( 648696 ) on Tuesday April 11, 2006 @04:21PM (#15108466) Homepage
    Story title is misleading. At 14", this is NOT tiny. It is on par with small toy airplanes.

    Am I the only one tired of these science stories that sound cool...but then you read them and get to the part where they say "and one day in the distant future...asuminig we get funding which is the whole reason for this press release....we could POSSIBLY do X, Y and Z with this!"

    Seriously...every time I read one of these and get to the "punchline" at the end I feel like I've been had for 2 minutes of my life.

    • At least read the blurb under the headline. It says right there...

      "But it could one day be shrunk to insect size..."

      Now, I KNOW it didn't take you 2 minutes to read that far. As to the main gist of what you are saying though, yeah, I hate that too.
    • True. And 10g is obese, too. You can buy a commercial model for only $239 [] that's 3.6 g.
    • Absolutely. Almost all of the science articles on /. lately have grossly misleading titles. It usually involves an invention that is, for all practical purposes, the same as someones existing product except that it will be capable of some stupendous thing when some non-existent technology becomes available.
      I myself have invented a car that runs on water. It says so right on the sticker I put on the window. It looks like a regular car, and runs on gasoline, but when the technology comes along to make cars r
  • [] "Well oiled, that's what you are. C'mon and ride in my muscle car."
  • This was on []: []

    However, I think the point isn't the size, it is that it emulates insect vision to sense its environment and avoid obstacles.
  • It isn't hard to make things smaller. It's the power supply that's the problem. No good shrinking something like this down to the size of an eyeglass screw if you've got to strap a AAA battery to make it fly.

    We've got to create new nanoscopic power sources before this type of technology can really take off.
  • Flies searching for lost people? Why not use large air baloons instead, you could load them with more cameras, they could stay in the air for longer amounts of time, oh, and in case the find who they are looking for, they could in principle pick them up and bring them home.
  • Hmmmm, mayhap they could patrol our southwestern borders. w/without the nerve agent.
  • I see these types in those rubber band glider competitions on how long a plane can stay aloft. m []
  • "But it could one day be shrunk to insect size"

    With, like, a shrink ray or somethin'?
  • by ekc ( 594380 )
    My favourite episode of Max Headroom was the one where Bryce spends all of his time trying to perfect a robotic fly to literally bug an enemy compound. After numerous technical setbacks, they send it off on its debut mission. After bobbing around the room a bit, it abruptly gets swatted out of existence, sending poor Bryce into shock.

    Now we fast-forward to 2006, and they're testing a robotic fly in a room where the walls are all painted in stripes. Hmm...
  • A fly navigates using its large, compound eyes, which let it see almost an entire field of view at once.


  • Where's the cheapest ultralight hovering flyer currently on the market that can carry a 50g payload for 10 minutes?
  • it could one day be shrunk to insect size

    Great, they've only been saying stuff like that for decades. We've been told everything from "we're going to have tiny nanobots crawling around our bodies repairing our organs" to "one day we will build computers out of sub-atomic particles". The fact is though that no one has even got close to achieving either. And until they do, this kind of lazy prediction is pointless. You might as well say "one day we'll all have time-machines". Maybe we will... But anyon

  • This may be neat, but it's nothing compared to the kind of tiny flying bug [] that the US Department of Defense wants to develop!

  • But this thing is a plane, so it's a bad choice. It's not much use in the great outdoors if it's very small, because the lightest gust of wind is going to send it 50' off course. Besides, the need to maintain forward progress to ensure lift is going to make a fixed-wing aircraft a tool of limited use, except maybe for buzzing drunk schoolmates at the annual picnic.

    I completely agree. Flies move by flapping their wings at a high speed, allowing for quick changes in direction and such. Fixed wing aircraf
  • The robotic insects will be a terrific opportunity for spying, but they will be even better for terrorism. A terrorist group can go for the leader of the opposing team (the prime minister, the president etc) without doing damage to the population: all it takes is a tiny robotic insect with a needle, a deadly poison and a self-destruct mechanism.

    Maybe the next version of bodyguards will have DDTs instead of guns...
  • by LS ( 57954 )
    Looking at declassified technologies developed decades ago, you can see technology that was "impossible" at the time was actually in existance. I wouldn't be surprised if there exist microbots the size of a flea that can fly around somewhat clumsily and send images or videos back to a receiver.


1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.