Micro Air Vehicle: Aircraft the Size of Insects Can Patrol and Protect


Insect sized remotely controlled aircraft, Micro Air Vehicles  (MAVs), designed to be small and lightweight, have become the latest tool  “for covert operations such as reconnaissance and espionage as well as for getting information about spaces that are inaccessible to humans,” according to unbelievable-facts.com

MAVs are categorized as UAV, which stood for unmanned aerial vehicles. Like UAVs, Micro Air Vehicles operate without human pilots on board, and are installed with a ground-based controller as well as a system for communication. However, while the current UAVs are very effective in military and research purposes, there has been an ongoing desire for “smaller, more agile systems that can be easily transported and operated by troops on the ground”, as stated by theengineer.co. This means that the rising interest and investment in MAVs have been spurred by the need for small, unpiloted vehicles to perform police/military purposes, constructional infrastructure, surveillance, and scientific mapping explorations. 

Most recently created MAVs are as small as 5 cm, whereas average insects measure from 3 to 20 mm. This makes them ideal for “peering around corners, flying into buildings and generally keeping troops out of harm’s way,” as theengineer.co. puts it. Thus, it is inevitable that MAVs have become great tools utilized in disaster sites and other regions unavailable to humans.

These flying robots were constructed by using state of the art technology and several designs have already been developed. Like other aircrafts designed before them, MAVs were classified into three main categories — the flapping wings, rotorcrafts, and fixed wings. Some other designs also include multirotors, rotary wings, and morphing designs. “Quadrotors,” as stated by a survey on swarming with Micro Air Vehicles, “have enjoyed the spotlight due to their high maneuverability, their ability to take-off vertically, and their relative simplicity in design.” 


Recent designs, being smaller and lighter, enabled the potentials of MAVs to expand as well as reduce the damage in events of collisions. They allowed MAVs to negotiate through indoor environments and narrow regions faster and more efficiently, making them safer and easier to operate. MAVs are powered by an assortment of batteries that enable each of their flights to stretch to a few hours.


The surge in the area of MAV research in recent years enabled many rapid advances in creating better vehicle designs and miniaturized components, as maintained by the International Journal of Micro Air Vehicles. Batteries and other key electronic components used to power MAVs have been refined and upgraded in recent tests, which allows MAVs to be more effective and attainable. As an illustration of this, Dr. Stephen Prior, a UAV specialist from the University of Southampton, said, “Microprocessors are becoming cheaper, faster and more capable, and the technology from the remote-control world is starting to become pervasive and affordable.”


Despite this, MAVs “have a set of constraints which are, in many ways, considerably different from that of traditional aircraft and are often best addressed by a multidisciplinary approach,” stated the International Journal of Micro Air Vehicles. Further research conducted on MAVs have several important focuses with which to make improvements, including fast-response nonlinear controls, nano-structures, integrated propulsion and lift mechanisms, highly flexible structures, and low Reynolds aerodynamics.


Taken into consideration the size as well as the Reynolds numbers of MAVs, prominent differences in their aerodynamic characteristics were revealed. This incorporates common movements such as lift and drag. For instance, recent MAVs created with fixed wing designs were inconsistent with lift generations and flight controls.

As many have known, MAVs were designed based on the study of insect flights and movements. They shared many common characteristics in addition to being approximately the same size. Thus, it became apparent for scientists that their understanding of the aerodynamics of insect flight is key to better designs for MAVs.


Recently, researchers from The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc in Cambridge and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn teamed up to work on ideas for a new project known as DragonflyEye. As maintained by afcea.org, the test flight of a cyborg MAV dragonfly was being conducted.

Currently, the MAVs designed were mainly used for scientific research, military uses, and aerial photography such as those used at disaster sites not easily accessible to humans. As they have not been around for a very long time, MAVs remained not as widely known as other aircrafts, so the commercial market for this product was still in development. As specified by ScienceDirect, “the size of the global market is hard to estimate, but it is reported that in Canada alone the sale of MAVs is about $20 million in 2018, and a ~10% annual increase is well expected for the years to come.”