Oxford develops insect spy machines

Researchers from Oxford’s Department of Zoology have developed insect-sized aerial machines designed to revolutionise surveillance work.

With wings closely modelled on those of real insects and the incorporation of micro-cameras, the machines are suitable for surveillance operations considered too dangerous for people to carry out as well as more covert operations. 

Dr Richard Bomphrey, leader of the research, said that he aimed to ‘‘explore how human made vehicles could transcend the constraints imposed by nature.” His research has focussed on the evolution of insect wings over the last 350 million years.

Currently the smallest unmanned surveillance device is around a foot wide.The new technology is likely to be used by the defence industry within three to five years, and may be widely deployed within 20 years.

NATO, the US Air Force and the European Office of Aerospace Research and Development have all expressed interest. The machines could be used for a variety of tasks from entering a hostile area or exploring the effects of a chemical spill to enhancing TV coverage of sports events.