Video Friday: The CIA's Declassified Robotic Spy Critters

The CIA had an operational robotic dragonfly in the 1970s, and we have video of it flying

2 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Video Friday: The CIA's Declassified Robotic Spy Critters

Yeah, we've got other videos for you this week too, but how often do you get to see footage of ex-super-secret robotic fish and bugs that we'd be impressed by if we saw them today even though they were invented decades ago? Never, that's how often, except for today.

We first learned about these robots last year when we spotted them on the official Flickr account of the CIA, and yesterday, the CIA followed up in a timely fashion with videos of the 'bots in action. First let's meet Charlie, a robotic catfish from the 1990s:

Charlie's mission was to "collect water samples undetected," you say? Riiiiiight.

And this is the Insectothopter, a miniature UAV modeled (quite realistically) after a dragonfly, designed to carry a tiny microphone around without being noticed:

Look Mr. Smug CIA Narrator Guy, I'd totally be impressed if a company had just invented a robotic dragonfly.

The craziest part of all this is the fact that the CIA had this dragonfly operational 40 years ago. It really, really makes us wonder what they've got going on right now that we won't hear about until several decades go by.

[ CIA Museum ]



Speaking of robotic bugs, TU-Delft's Delfly II has been learning how to control itself in a wind tunnel:

[ Delfly ]



Speaking of speaking of robotic bugs, Harvard's flapping-wing microbot has been learning to control itself in midair:

[ Harvard Microrobotics Lab ]



You remember Affetto, don't you? This robot baby started off as just a head, but now it has a torso, which means that it's only a pair of legs away from being able to chase you down:

Via [ Plastic Pals ]



We've been keeping a close eye on MIT's meticulously bio-inspired robotic cheetah, which just recently tested out a running gait for the first time:

"Running" means that the cheetah has all four paws off the treadmill for some period of time. It's not a sprint quite yet, but we hear that this robot should be stepping out of the lab and strutting its stuff outdoors in the near future.

[ MIT Biomimetic Lab ]



This has to be the greatest trash can the world has ever seen:

Someone, for the love of all that is robot, put this thing on Kickstarter so that I can throw money at it. Take my money! TAKE IT!!!

Thanks Ryan!



And finally, we have this:


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