Dragonflies can manoeuvre through the air more elegantly and with more degrees of freedom than any man-made machine yet designed, despite having brains with as little computing power as a desktop PC. It's one of those cases where man's intentional design is no match for millions of years of natural evolution at solving a complex problem. So how do you build a robot that can fly as well as a dragonfly? Reverse engineering! A Duke University news release reports that researchers have developed a tiny telemetry system that decodes and transmits the insect's neural activity as it flies. The researchers describe it as:
a 14-channel digital wireless neural/EMG telemetry system, suitable for in-flight neural recording from flying insects such as dragonflies. It has a system mass of only 38 milligrams. The IC is powered by RF energy harvesting and consumes less than 1.23mW. It digitizes 10 neural and 4 EMG signals with 11 bit resolution as a 5 Mbps backscattered data stream at UHF (902-928 MHz). It has been fabricated in a 0.35um 4M1P CMOS process.
This research is being done by Duke University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the HHMI Janelia Farm facility. The new research was revealed in a recently presented paper, "A Battery-Free Multi-Channel Digital Neural/EMG Telemetry System for Flying Insects" (abstract). Unfortunately the new paper is not yet available online. However, you can read more about the general idea from a previous paper by one of the same researchers: Wireless Neural/EMG Telemetry Systems for Small Freely Moving Animals (PFD format)