The first robotic flying insect was developed in the 1970s, but it was too fragile

The first robotic flying insect was developed in the 1970s, but it was too fragile

The Insectothopter was an artificial dragonfly capable of flying up to 200 meters. It was designed by the Vought Corp Advanced Technology Center, in Dallas, USA, for the CIA.

The project began in the early 1970s and was closed sometime after 1974. It was hand-painted to look as much like a dragonfly as possible.

Project for espionage

In the Full Cold War , an option was sought to spy on the enemy without raising suspicions. After scrapping the idea of ​​a mechanical bumblebee, CIA engineers created a prototype dragonfly. Nicknamed the Insectothopter, it was the first insect-sized unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Under ideal conditions, it had a range of 200 meters and a flight time of 60 seconds.


It was hoped that field agents could pilot this flying insect to approach targets and use the reflectors in the eyes to focus a laser microphone (which detected sound from the distortion of the reflected beam).

The Insectothopter’s propulsion system was based on a miniature fluid oscillator, which moved the wings up and down to mimic the flight of a real dragonfly.

Following the example of nature , the CIA engineers did well to choose the dragonfly. Dragonflies are agile aerialists, capable of hovering, gliding, and even flying backwards. They can rotate 180 degrees in three flaps. The body of the Insectothopter 6 centimeters long and with a wingspan of 9 cm was within the range of the actual dimensions of a dragonfly.

Also, dragonflies are native to all continents except Antarctica, so their presence would not be conspicuous.


However, the robot insect turned out to be too fragile to be used, as even the slightest breezes knocked it down.