A dragonfly modeling the full backpack / DRAPER

Researchers have unveiled the smallest ever drone in the form of a genetically modified Dragonfly.

In an attempt to reduce the bulk and size of regular drones, researchers at Charles Stark Draper Laboratory and Howard Hughes Medical Centre have used a live, controllable, genetically engineered insect instead. Aptly called the DragonflEye, writes The Drive, is the first ever half-animal and half-machine.

In order for it to fly it has been fully equipped with tiny solar powered cells on its back and is therefore not the one in control. The live insect has been modified not only on the outside by solar cells and small data gathering sectors, but also internally, all through developed software that controls the hardware.

The researchers fitted the insect with a number of miniature sensors that afford it the ability to collect data and analyse its surroundings. The two main advantages of doing so include the ability to reach areas any person or drone can’t, and to blend in with nature.

According to Draper, they are using synthetic biology in “developing tiny optical structures, called optrodes that can activate the special ‘steering’ neurons with pulses of light piped into the nerve cord from the dragonfly’s backpack. Traditional optical fibres are too stiff to be wrapped around the tiny dragonfly nerve cord, so Draper developed innovative flexible optrodes that can bend light around sub-millimetre turns. These optrodes will enable precise and targeted neural activation without disrupting the thousands of nearby neurons.”

This is a very exciting step forward in terms of the potential effect it could have on the surveillance and intelligence fields, with an opportunity for devices such as this to become unnoticeable and stealthier.

More so, this next level of biotech achievement and experimentation brings with it potential benefits for the medical field. The genetic engineering that allows one to override the control of movement, could be pivotal when put to use for disabled people who’ve lost control of their limbs.