Researchers have been fascinated with the idea of ornithopters -- aircraft propelled by flapping wings -- for two hundred years.Now, the Washington Post reports, University of Toronto scientists have built a hovering, flapping, winged robot -- a real, live orthnithopter.It's called "Mentor." And this tiny machine looks "like a cross between a dragonfly and a Chinese lantern."
Mentor came into being in response to a vision of a "fly-on-the-wall spy" put forward by James McMichael at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1997. He envisioned stealth "micro-air vehicles" with the size and flying ability of insects deployed to gather intelligence on enemy terrain.Flapping wings offer several advantages over the fixed wings of today's reconnaissance drones, such as the Predator used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Flapping wings allow insects and birds to fly at low speeds, hover, make sharp turns and even fly backward.(via Robots.net)