Israel's 'Futuristic' Bionic Hornet is 70 Years Old

It Has Come to This: Computer Orders Restauran

According to a widely syndicated story, Israel is developing futuristic weapons, including a nanotechnology-based bionic hornet no bigger than the real insect (see this photo of a giant Asian hornet). This weaponized bug would be able to chase, photograph and eliminate targets, easily maneuvering in urban landscapes. Did I say futuristic? Not exactly.

Frankly, if you are going to spend your time reading what amounts to science-fictional claims relating to bionic hornets - there won't even be prototypes for three years - you might as well read the real story.

In his excellent 1936 short story The Scarab, science fiction writer Raymond Z. Gallun describes exactly what the Israelis seem to want - a remote-controlled robotic device no larger than an insect.

The Scarab paused on its perch for a moment, as if to determine for itself whether it was perfectly fit for action. It was a tiny thing, scarcely more than an inch and a half in length... ...With a buzz that any uninformed person would have mistaken for that of a beetle, it started out on its journey... ...the Scarab buzzed into the great workroom as any intruding insect might, and sought the security of a shadowed corner. There it studied its surroundings, transmitting to its manipulator, far away now, all that it heard through its ear microphones and saw with its minute vision tubes. (Read more about the Scarab flying insect robot)

Even better, the Scarab had the ability to deliver a soporific "sting" upon command. Note also that the Scarab is right on top of the latest trends, including wireless power (see Wireless Power For Laptops, Cell Phones?). (Also, take a look at this great photo of the real-life Green scarab beetle.)

But why would Israel, which possesses the most powerful military in the region, want tiny weapons? Israel's Prime Minister Shimon Peres said "The war in Lebanon proved that we need smaller weaponry. It's illogical to send a plane worth $100 million against a suicidal terrorist. So we are building futuristic weapons."

As long as the Israelis are developing their 'bionic hornet' specification, they might as well read the literature:

  • Aerostat Monitor From Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age (1995), these tiny devices kept a watch on the borders.
  • BlurbfliesFrom Jeff Noon's Nymphomation (2000); these are the perfect disinformation and propaganda devices.
  • Bee CamFrom Karen Travis' City of Pearl (2004); this is just what you want for autonomous surveillance.

And they should take a look at the current development efforts:

This 'bionic hornet' story has been repeated in various places, with the same very skimpy facts. Some sites erroneously report that Israel already has one of these (they won't for a long time). Reuters is as good a source as any. But if you want "futuristic" weapons, stick with science fiction on this one.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission from - where science meets fiction.)

Bill Christensen catalogues the inventions, technology and ideas of science fiction writers at his website, Technovelgy. He is a contributor to Live Science.