The frigid wind battered the fabric of the ThermaTech tent, but Delta‑One hardly noticed. He and Delta‑Three were focused on their comrade, who was manipulating the joystick in his hand with surgical dexterity. The screen before them displayed a live video transmission from a pinpoint camera mounted aboard the microrobot.
The ultimate surveillance tool, Delta‑One thought, still amazed every time they powered it up. Lately, in the world of micromechanics, fact seemed to be out‑pacing fiction.
Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS)microbotswere the newest tool in high‑tech surveillancefly on the wall technology, they called it.
Although microscopic, remote‑controlled robots sounded like science fiction, in fact they had been around since the 1990s. Discovery magazine had run a cover story in May 1997 on microbots, featuring both flying and swimming models. The swimmersnanosubs the size of salt grainscould be injected into the human bloodstream a la the movie Fantastic Voyage. They were now being used by advanced medical facilities to help doctors navigate arteries by remote control, observe live intravenous video transmissions, and locate arterial blockages without ever lifting a scalpel.
Contrary to intuition, building a flying microbot was even simpler business. The aerodynamics technology for getting a machine to fly had been around since Kitty Hawk, and all that remained had been the issue of miniaturization. The first flying microbots, designed by NASA as unmanned exploration tools for future Mars missions, had been several inches long. Now, however, advances in nanotechnology, lightweight energy‑absorbent materials, and micromechanics had made the flying microbots a reality.
The true breakthrough had come from the new field biomimicscopying Mother Nature. Miniature dragonflies, as it turned out, were the ideal prototype for these agile and efficient flying microbots. The PH2 model Delta‑Two was currently flying was only one centimeter longthe size of a mosquitoand employed a dual pair of transparent, hinged, silicon‑leaf wings, giving it unparalleled mobility and efficiency in the air.
The microbots refueling mechanism had been another breakthrough. The first microbot prototypes could only recharge their energy cells by hovering directly beneath a bright light source, not ideal for stealth or use in dark locales. The newer prototypes, however, could recharge simply by parking within a few inches of a magnetic field. Conveniently, in modern society, magnetic fields were ubiquitous and discreetly placedpower outlets, computer monitors, electric motors, audio speakers, cellphonesit seemed there was never any shortage of obscure recharging stations. Once a microbot had been introduced successfully into a locale, it could transmit audio and video almost indefinitely. The Delta Forces PH2 had been transmitting for over a week now with no trouble whatsoever.
Now, like an insect hovering inside a cavernous barn, the airborne microbot hung silently in the still air of the structures massive central room. With a birds‑eye view of the space below, the microbot circled silently above unsuspecting occupantstechnicians, scientists, specialists in numerous fields of study. As the PH2 circled, Delta‑One spotted two familiar faces engaged in conversation. They would be a telling mark. He told Delta‑Two to drop down and have a listen.
Manipulating the controls, Delta‑Two switched on the robots sound sensors, oriented the microbots parabolic amplifier, and decreased the robots elevation until it was ten feet over the scientists heads. The transmission was faint, but discernible.
I still cant believe it, one scientist was saying. The excitement in his voice had not diminished since his arrival here forty‑eight hours ago.
The man with whom he was talking obviously shared the enthusiasm. In your lifetime . . . did you ever think you would witness anything like this?
Never, the scientist replied, beaming. Its all a magnificent dream.
Delta‑One had heard enough. Clearly everything inside was proceeding as expected. Delta‑Two maneuvered the microbot away from the conversation and flew it back to its hiding place. He parked the tiny device undetected near the cylinder of an electric generator. The PH2s power cells immediately began recharging for the next mission.