Are robotic dragonflies the government's newest surveillance technique?

dragonfly.jpg An article in today's WaPo discusses some odd dragonflies seen in New York City recently, which some of the witnesses say look "large for dragonflies" and suspiciously mechanical. Speculation is that they're robotic bugs spying for the US government -- of course, there's other speculation that they're just plain dragonflies, too. Don't be misled by the photo in the article (reproduced here); that's a picture from a lab at Harvard.

But after all the apparent warnings for the tinfoil hat brigade, the article does a nice of highlighting some of the ongoing research into robotic insects. Here's an interesting bit:

In one approach, researchers funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are inserting computer chips into moth pupae -- the intermediate stage between a caterpillar and a flying adult -- and hatching them into healthy "cyborg moths."

The Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems project aims to create literal shutterbugs -- camera-toting insects whose nerves have grown into their internal silicon chip so that wranglers can control their activities. DARPA researchers are also raising cyborg beetles with power for various instruments to be generated by their muscles.

"You might recall that Gandalf the friendly wizard in the recent classic 'Lord of the Rings' used a moth to call in air support," DARPA program manager Amit Lal said at a symposium in August. Today, he said, "this science fiction vision is within the realm of reality."

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