Israel is developing a robot the size of a hornet to attack terrorists. And although the prototype will not fly for three years, killer Micro Air Vehicles, or MAVs, are much closer than that.Source.
British Special Forces already use 6-inch MAV aircraft called WASPs for reconnaissance in Afghanistan. The $3,000 WASP is operated with a Gameboy-style controller and is nearly silent, so it can get very close without being detected. A new development will reportedly see the WASP fitted with a C4 explosive warhead for kamikaze attacks on snipers. One newspaper dubbed it "The Talibanator."
Other engineers are developing microbots for exploring difficult to access caves and other planets.
In Phase I, we wanted to focus on robotic units that were small, very numerous (hence expendable), largely autonomous, and that had the mobility that was needed for getting into rugged terrains. Based on Dr. Dubowsky's ongoing work with artificial-muscle-activated robotic motion, we came up with the idea of many, many, tiny little spheres, about the size of tennis balls, that essentially hop, almost like Mexican jumping beans. They store up muscle energy, so to speak, and then they boink themselves off in various directions. That's how they move.More.
We've calculated that we could probably pack about a thousand of these guys into a payload mass the size of one of the current MERs (Mars Exploration Rovers). That would give us the flexibility to suffer the loss of a large percentage of the units and still have a network that could be doing recon and sensing, imaging, and perhaps even some other science functions.
AM: How do all these little spheres co-ordinate with each other?
PB: They behave as a swarm. They relate to each other using very simple rules, but that produces a great deal of flexibility in their collective behavior that enables them to meet the demands of unpredictable and hazardous terrain. The ultimate product that we're envisioning is a fleet of these little guys being sent to some promising landing site, exiting from the lander and then making their way over to some subsurface or other hazardous terrain, where they deploy themselves as a network. They create a cellular communication network, on a node-to-node basis.
You can find movies of microbots and scholarly papers here.
Here is a report discussing Micro-Air Vehicle research for the US Air Force.
You can read about earlier flying robots, and view a movie of a micro robo-copter flying here. State of the art microbots now are much smaller and potentially more letal.
If you could teach a continuously deformable microbot to fly, there is no end to the amount of mischief such a sneaky little bugger could create.