U.S. Army invests in robotic insects

May 5, 2008

The U.S. Army is backing a project to develop robotic insects aimed at enhancing the military’s situational awareness capabilities. The autonomous, multifunctional miniature intelligence-gathering robots will be capable of operating in places too inaccessible or dangerous for humans.

The project is being conducted by MAST (Micro Autonomous Systems and Technology), a technology alliance funded by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. MAST will research and develop various robotic devices capable of operating in both urban environments and in complex terrain, such as mountains and caves.

Two concepts of insect-like spy-bots
(Click each image to enlarge)

Key areas of MAST R&D reportedly will include small-scale aeromechanics and ambulation; propulsion; sensing, processing and communications; navigation and control; microdevices and integration; platform packaging; and systems architectures.

The alliance has four “principal” alliance members, each heading up one area of R&D:

  • BAE Systems — Microsystems Integration
  • University of Michigan — Microelectronics
  • University of Maryland — Microsystem Mechanics
  • University of Pennsylvania — Processing for Autonomous Operation.

Other MAST participants include the University of California, Berkeley; the California Institute of Technology; the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; the Georgia Institute of Technology; the University of New Mexico; and the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

“Robotic platforms extend the warfighter’s senses and reach, providing operational capabilities that would otherwise be costly, impossible, or deadly to achieve,” Dr. Joseph Mait, MAST cooperative agreement manager for the Army Research Laboratory, stated in a news release. “The MAST alliance is a highly collaborative effort, with each partner from government, academia, and industry playing a significant role.”

“The goal of this Center is to develop fundamental mechanics tools for innovative microsystems, which could result in a ‘quantum jump’ in performance, maneuverability, and functional adaptability from current levels,” according to a document published by the University of Maryland.

The Army reportedly has funded MAST for an initial five-year period, along with an option for a five years extension. For further details, visit the U.S. Army Research Laboratory‘s website.

Perhaps future wars will be fought by opposing armies of robotic insects.

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