|British scientists build spying robot flies
Scientists are trying to build a robot version of the common hover fly
British military scientists are developing robot flies that can be sent in swarms to spy out enemy positions.
The idea sounds like nightmarish science fiction, but project leader Dr Rafal Zbikowski believes the first machine insects could be buzzing around his lab within seven to 10 years.
He has already produced a non-airborne prototype that mimics the wing beats of a hover fly.
Unlike conventional unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), Dr Zbikowski's tiny winged drones could operate in confined and cluttered spaces within buildings, stairwells, tunnels or caves.
They would be invaluable for rooting out hidden terrorists, or - with more peaceful roles in mind - helping to locate victims of natural disasters such as earthquakes. Industrial applications could involve inspecting chemical pipes or mines.
The US military, which is partly funding the research, has even expressed an interest in using the robots to deliver small explosive charges.
They would be the ultimate "smart" weapon, able to destroy a specifically chosen target - such as a computer - without having to bomb whole buildings.
Dr Zbikowski is based at the Defence College of Management and Technology at Cranfield University in Shrivenham, Oxfordshire.
His work has a wide range of funding support, including the Ministry of Defence, the US military, and the US space agency Nasa.
He expected the robot flies to be electrically powered and largely autonomous rather than remotely operated. That would allow swarms of the devices to operate in cluttered environments where they cannot be seen.