Close

Meet the CIA’s Insectothopter

Sadly, the 1-gram spy craft couldn’t withstand a gentle breeze, but later dragonfly-inspired UAVs proved far more capable

3 min read
Photo of the Insectothopter.
Photo: CIA Museum

It was the 1970s, the Cold War was in full swing, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s Office of Research and Development had developed a miniaturized listening device. But they didn’t have a good way to maneuver the device into place without raising suspicions.

After scrapping the idea of a mechanical bumblebee, CIA engineers prototyped a dragonfly to carry the bug. Dubbed the Insectothopter, the bug-carrying bug was the agency’s first insect-size unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and it seemed to show potential. Under ideal conditions, it had a range of 200 meters and a flight time of 60 seconds.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Stay ahead of the latest trends in technology. Become an IEEE member.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

The Lies that Powered the Invention of Pong

A fake contract masked a design exercise–and started an industry

4 min read
Vertical
Pong arcade game in yellow cabinet containing black and white TV display, two knobs are labeled Player 1 and Player 2, Atari logo visible.
Roger Garfield/Alamy

In 1971 video games were played in computer science laboratories when the professors were not looking—and in very few other places. In 1973 millions of people in the United States and millions of others around the world had seen at least one video game in action. That game was Pong.

Two electrical engineers were responsible for putting this game in the hands of the public—Nolan Bushnell and Allan Alcorn, both of whom, with Ted Dabney, started Atari Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif. Mr. Bushnell told Mr. Alcorn that Atari had a contract from General Electric Co. to design a consumer product. Mr. Bushnell suggested a Ping-Pong game with a ball, two paddles, and a score, that could be played on a television.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less