Introduction / How do flies fly? / How do flies turn? / Michael Dickinson / Robofly

As Michael Dickinson solves the mysteries of insect flight, he is working with a team of UC Berkeley engineers to a build an autonomous flying robot.

Funded with $2.5 million from the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense, the robot is expected to fly by 2004.

The dream is to build an inexpensive, house fly-sized robot which could be dispersed in the hundreds or thousands, says Ron Fearing, a Berkeley engineering professor who leads the robot's ambitious design team.

Engineers say the robots could be used for a variety of innovative applications: everything from search and rescue operations, to gathering weather information, to entertainment for children. But they could also be used for spying -- or worse, if they fell into the wrong hands, says engineer Kristofer Pister, who is designing the robot's "brain."

Still, Dickinson says all scientific research has potential dangers, and he is optimistic that the robotic flies will lead to more good than harm. "What matters most is how the balance sheet turns out in the long run," he says.

Learn more about Michael Dickinson's research and the quest to build the robotic fly in the television documentary, "Robofly."

Produced and directed by Jason Spingarn-Koff (2001, Duration: 25:36). Original Score by Andrew Martin. Narrated by Cynthia Gorney.




rendering of the flying robot, close to final size


this tiny metal wing flaps at nearly 150 times a second


Robofly News:

"Robofly" is now available from Pyramid Media (, 800-421-2304

A 14-minute version, "Fly-O-Rama," is airing nationally on the new PBS series Life 360 (



Copyright 2000, 2001 Jason Spingarn-Koff