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Equipping Insects for Special Service

Draper DragonflEye navigation and sensor backpack on actual dragonfly.

Draper DragonflEye navigation and sensor backpack on actual dragonfly.

July 31, 2017 | Source: Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, draper.com, 19 January 2017

Draper combines navigation and neuromodulation to guide insects

The smallest aerial drones mimic insects in many ways, but none can match the efficiency and maneuverability of the dragonfly. Now, engineers at Draper are creating a new kind of hybrid drone by combining miniaturized navigation, synthetic biology and neurotechnology to guide dragonfly insects. The system looks like a backpack for a dragonfly.

DragonflEye, an internal research and development project at Draper, is already showing promise as a way to guide the flightpath of dragonflies. Potential applications of the technologies underpinning DragonflEye include guided pollination, payload delivery, reconnaissance and even precision medicine and diagnostics. 

“DragonflEye is a totally new kind of micro-aerial vehicle that’s smaller, lighter and stealthier than anything else that’s manmade,” said Jesse J. Wheeler, biomedical engineer at Draper and principal investigator on the program. “This system pushes the boundaries of energy harvesting, motion sensing, algorithms, miniaturization and optogenetics, all in a system small enough for an insect to wear.”