The tiniest drones we’ve ever seen have lift off.
The project aimed to create the smallest drone possible by doing more than just taking inspiration from the animal kingdom — Draper’s engineers literally outfitted an actual dragonfly with drone tech, putting a suite of next-gen navigation, synthetic biology, and neurotechnology systems on its back in the form of mini “backpack,” which is powered by a built-in solar cell.
When the project was first announced earlier this year, there was no actual footage or even images of the drones — just a to-scale model of a dragonfly toting the backpack. That was six months ago — and now, the Draper team has made some impressive new progress.
New video released this week shows off Draper’s progress with the DragonflEye concept, giving us a good look at how the system is applied to a real-life dragonfly.
The short footage shows Draper scientists delicately placing the tech on the back of a dragonfly, which doesn’t appear to be harmed by the procedure. By the end of the video, the hybrid creature takes flight — although it’s unclear whether it was controlled by Draper scientists or not.
The DragonflEye drones aren’t just using the insects to create the smallest drone possible — the tiny tech is actually built to allow Draper’s engineers to control the animals remotely. The team can send commands to neurons inside the dragonfly’s nerve cord, which are associated with navigation, in order to guide its flightpath.
The cyborg is also controlled by a system of optical structures, called optrodes, that target the exact neural systems needed to send navigation commands without disrupting the rest of the dragonfly’s neural network.
There are no other new details available about the DragonflEye project or its uses — other than the video and new images, of course — but the Draper team previously described a platform that could someday be used for surveillance, intelligence, and even to study the neural application for medical purposes in the future.
For now, though, Draper will look to hone the system for longer flights than just the straight-ahead path shown in the video. Once they’ve locked that down, we could have a future filled with swarms of tiny cyborgs zooming around our airspace.