A University of Delaware professor is devising small robotic devices mimicking the flight of birds and insects. Once fully developed, the devices will carry miniature cameras and fly in flocklike formations to send surveillance data back to a central computer for processing.

Early versions of the robotic birds were balsa wood powered by rubberband engines that made the wings flap. Carbon-fiber composites replaced the balsa with battery-powered wings made of Mylar, dropping the weight from 50 to 15 gm. Sunil Arawal, UD professor of mechanical engineering, hopes to further miniaturize the birds so they are small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, as well as add controls to guide flight. The birds may one day be used in military or industrial applications, or in rescue operations to map the interiors of collapsed buildings.