as if he were flapping his own wings.
Shyy’s research, figuring how to make robotic fliers modeled on hummingbirds and bumblebees, seems like a lark, the dream of a geek. But it’s serious stuff. The air force is funding his research work to the tune of nearly $4 million, because the cute little creations could be flying spies.
“There’s lots of potential to do antiterrorism work with these,” Shyy explains, picking up a delicate paper model of a concept flier. “It’s really like a flying sensor. In Iraq and Afghanistan a soldier could have one of these, have it fly out, and see what’s going on ahead of him.”
Shyy quickly adds that the slow-moving aerial robots could also be used to monitor pollution sites—or even be turned into toys. But it’s not the EPA or Mattel that’s funding him. Like many of his U-M colleagues, he has capitalized on Pentagon dollars to build his research career.
Forty years after Vietnam War protests forced the U-M regents to ban classified military research, no one’s making lethal weapons on campus. But more than $200 million of Department of Defense money is currently underwriting everything from conceiving faster planes and more powerful lasers to looking for cures for prostate cancer. And no one is protesting one bit.