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The idea of tiny flying robots that control traffic, perform, unseen, reconnaissance inside buildings occupied by terrorists or watch from above the moves of enemies in war seems to be taken from a science fiction film. In fact scientists around the world have been working for years on the development of mini drones armed with cameras and surveillance tools, to be used in war theatres but also in scientific, industrial and civil.

Remote-guided or GPS-powered aircraft and autopilots are already commonly used to inspect miles of oil pipelines daily, patrol borders between states (for example between Mexico and the USA) and map deforestation. The use of these devices is considered strategic, so much so that the American army has a department dedicated exclusively to their development: it is the MAV, Micro Air Veichles Research Project.

To make these small technological jewels, scientists are inspired by nature, for example insects or birds, such as hummingbirds, small and with flying skills to be envyed by the most sophisticated fighter planes. The use of these robots raises many questions, not just because of the potential in armed conflict or acts of terrorism. How can we not assume that they are used for social control purposes in countries where Laws and Democracy are weak? And more generally, they might also question the concept of privacy for all of us, reduced to potentially 24-hour surveillance by an army of invisible machines.

# VIDEO Prototypes at work.

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Photo: © Photo: REUTERS/Skip Peterson

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