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COURTESY: USAF

SPECIAL FEATURE

MicroFly

I

n a small room in Langley, CIA analysts digest a plethora of top secret projects that are on the verge of moving espionage techniques and counterterrorism operations well into the future. Indeed, only a few years ago some of the projects and technology available today, would have been more at home seated on sets built for Hollywood’s science fiction movie industry. Today, the creators of some quite astonishing technology are on the verge of staggering inventions that will almost certainly re-invent the spying game. In the last edition of Eye Spy, we examined how Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are becoming a common sight in our skies, especially over war zones. They are also being used commercially by all manor of companies and scientists who now recognise that they offer cheap and alternative methods for surveillance. These remarkable creations have the ability to perform a range of tasks from striking terrorist safe houses, to 24-hour surveillance on oil pipe lines. UAVs come in all shapes and sizes and have various power sources. This often governs just how long they can stay aloft and the type of task each device can undertake. Military and government contract companies are not the only organisations to realise the unique potential of UAVs. Those charged with intelligence gathering of a different kind are now taking a serious interest in unmanned surveillance devices. Imagine a spying device that not only flies like an insect, but is as small as an insect. Undetected and almost silent, the world’s most secure buildings would be vulnerable. Access to top secret meetings and

Mimicking the movement of a fly

DIAGRAM: JEN PHILPOT

The B2 flying wing is a splendid example of an aircraft carrying an array of advanced technology. Now US scientists are on the verge of developing microscopic flying devices that will conduct surveillance operations and much more... The pioneering DARPA-backed AeroVironment MAV Black Widow project is already 20-years old. The device weighed just two ounces and had a six-inch wingspan Propeller 2 gm

Motor and Heat Sinks 8 gm

Power Converter 1 gm

Pilot-Static Probe 1 gm Pressure Sensor 6 gm

Primary Batteries 26 gm

Control Actuator 0.5 gm

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information would be at the fingertips of the device’s user. No longer is this science fiction, but rather science fact. Creating micro flying devices has been hindered by our inability to mimic the flight characteristics of insects. Some of the first

Magnetometer 0.5 gm

Downlink transmitter 1.4 gm

The tiny Black Widow UAV

lives. It’s ironic therefore that over a hundred years later scientists in America and England are confident that they are now beginning to understand the incredible ‘flapping wing motion’ of bees, flies and butterflies. Eagleeyed watchers from the world of intelligence recognise that if scientists now understand the technology, there is a real possibility it could be duplicated.

Video Camera 2 gm

aviators tried to fly by duplicating the complex and incredibly quick motion of flapping wings. The inventor would place himself in an awkward wooden contraption and set in motion a couple of lifelike wings - he usually ended up peddling over a cliff edge. All such efforts failed, and many pioneers lost their

The CIA and other US defence agencies are working alongside a number of groups linked to this research. A prototype flying drone measuring less than half-an-inch has already been built, and there are plans afoot to build even smaller drones. One promising invention flies by flapping two micro-thin membranes (wings). Sceptics believe it would be impossible to attach even the slightest weight to this device (cameras, audio etc.), but scientists

Another AeroVironment project. Note the real-time video footage provided by this MAV

Uplink Receiver 3 gm

Gyro 1 gm

Flight Computers 1 gm

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