New York college students attending an antiwar rally in
Lafayette Square last month were convinced they saw small flying machines that
were "definitely not insects" hovering above.
Bernard Crane, a Washington Lawyer, saw them too and said he had never seen
anything like them in his life.
These sightings are among a group
of sightings occurring recently in Washington and New York. Some
observers think the unidentified flying objects may be miniature high tech
surveillance tools set loose by the Department of Homeland Security to observe
the protests. Others say that the devices are just dragonflies, despite observers’
insistence that the flying entities are not insects.
None of the various government organizations, have admitted to deploying
robotic spy bugs over the U.S., but many of these organizations and private
companies they contract with acknowledge that they want to do so and are
actively pursuing the technologies to make it possible.
Some government organizations are not looking to redesign nature, but rather to
modify it. They are growing special live insects with computer chips in
them that control the insects' nervous system. The insects could also be
made to carry devices, like miniature wireless cameras.
These robobugs could have a plethora of uses, including crawling after sneaky
suspects, guiding our missiles, or exploring collapsed structures--and perhaps
snooping on protesters.
Gary Anderson the Defense Department's Rapid Reaction Technology Office, when
questioned by interviewers about if such drones existed responded, "If you
find something, let me know."
The CIA, according to The Washington Post, developed a simple dragonfly
snooper in the 1970s.
Tom Ehrhard, a retired Air Force colonel, specializing in unmanned aerial
vehicles admitted that the U.S. government can be pretty sneaky.
The armed forces have been using robotic fliers since World War II and
currently have 100 official models ranging from the size of planes to the size
of birds. These models flew 160,000 flights last year, according to
Recent reports by the Army suggest that these unmanned flights may make air
travel hazardous, with their increased frequency.
It appears that designing robobugs is a bit harder than robotic planes
though. Insect flight is "theoretically impossible" and only
recent research at Cornell University has been able to fully explore how
The research revealed how the dragonflies conserve energy while hovering by
fine wing adjustments. Such discoveries could help future robobugs hover
in place while they watch their mark.
The CIA developed a gas powered dragonfly robot in the 1970s, which was
declared a failure when it could not handle the crosswinds. It was
powered by four small wings. The CIA's spokesman George Little said he
could not comment on what the Agency had been working on since.
Only the FBI officially denied having robobugs.
DARPA declared though that they are hard at work implanting moth pupae with
computer chips to make "cyborg moths" when the pupae emerge from
their protective casing. The Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical
Systems hopes to allow researchers to grow insect nerves into silicon computer
chip connections to allow the insects to be remote controlled like RC
airplanes. DARPA researchers also are raising cyborg beetles.
At a scientific symposium in August DARPA program manager Amit Lal announced
"You might recall that Gandalf the friendly wizard in the recent classic
'Lord of the Rings' used a moth to call in air support. Today, this
science fiction vision is within the realm of reality."
Many in the armed forces have serious doubts though about if the project will
ever take off of the ground.
Fully robotic fliers may be a better way to go.
The California Institute of Technology and Vanderbilt both demoed robotic
flying insects, though their devices looked robotic. However, Harvard
University managed to get a truly insect-looking robot to fly, by beating its
robotic wings 120 beats per second. The device, machined by lasers and
weighing a mere 65 mg is a technical marvel. However, its power supply is
still too limited to allow it to be autonomous.
Japanese researchers have succeeded in launching autonomous radio control
fliers with four inch wing spans, though. These fliers are the size of
There are many practical challenges to designing insect fliers for example
dangers from birds or spider webs that could take out the expensive pieces of
electronics in an instant.
The question still remains though what the sightings in Washington and New York
Entomologists interviewed believe the entities to be black dragonflies, based
on descriptions. The dragonfly population of Washington "can knock
your socks off" according to one entomologist.
Unfortunately, the entomologists could not explain the bulb shape attachments
to their tails that many reported seeing; nor could they explain their
organized flight which was widely reported by observers. Dragonflies do
not fly in packs, according to entomologists.
While these strange sightings will certainly raise the paranoia level, they
bring to light the large amount of fascinating research into autonomous aerial