A photo depicting a robotic mosquito inserting a syringe into a man’s finger has been circulating online, with claims that drone spy insects are currently in production. Is this true?
The photo is not real.
While robotic drone insects – known as “Micro Aerial Vehicles” or MAVs – are currently in development, there is no evidence that the technology depicted in the popular photo exists.
The photo, which has circulated for several years, has been seen with the following caption:
Is this a mosquito?
No. It’s an insect spy drone for urban areas, already in production. It can be remotely controlled and is equipped with a camera and a microphone. It can land on you, and it may have the potential to take a DNA sample or leave RFID tracking nanotechnology on your skin. It can fly through an open window, or it can attach to your clothing until you take it in your home.
Johns Hopkins has published information about MAVs, but none of the literature available indicates that such technology as syringe-wielding robotic mosquitoes exists. In fact, it appears that most of the focus at Johns Hopkins has been mimicking the movements of the Painted Lady Butterfly, not mosquitoes, as evidenced by a series of videos featuring the work of Johns Hopkins Department of Mechanical Engineering student Tiras Lin (see video below).
For decades there have been reports of military drones the size of insects (see this video for a prototype dragon fly drone in the 1970s), but these devices are much simpler than suggested by the popular “spy mosquito” photograph. One such drone prototype is patterned after a housefly and does not display such technology either (below).
The popular spy mosquito photo appears to be an artist’s rendering of a future technology. While the research featured by Johns Hopkins could certainly one day lead to such developments as a DNA-extracting spy mosquito, it appears that the current technology has not yet produced a drone at this level of sophistication.
Here is a video showing the work of Johns Hopkins student Tiras Lin:
2012 Business Insider
A 2012 Business Insider article discussed some potential drone designs, and described a future technology similar to that which has been circulated with the “spy mosquito” photo discussed here. Engineer Alan Lovejoy was quoted as speculating about a future spy mosquito:
“Such a device could be controlled from a great distance and is equipped with a camera, microphone. It could land on you and then use its needle to take a DNA sample.”
It appears that Lovejoy’s speculation about a future technology was quickly taken out of context and circulated as fact. The Business Insider article concluded that the technology of insect drones were “theoretically possible” but currently “only imagination.”
Business Insider also included the “spy mosquito” photograph featured here with a caption that read, “Mockup of mosquito drone.”
The chart below shows search interest in this topic. While its biggest peak occurred in mid-2013, there was also a renewed surge in interest in mid-2015.
Insect drones do exist, but not at the technological level depicted by the artist’s rendering of a DNA-extracting mosquito shown above. Research is continuing at the university level and by the military, for different reasons. Robotic insects flying recon missions could easily exist today.
Updated September 10, 2015
Originally posted September 2012