By Karin Mallett

When scientists get stumped, they often look to nature for inspiration.

That’s why, when robotics engineers at MIT were trying to build tiny robots that lit up, they turned to an obvious influence.

These man-made ‘fireflies’ are flying robots, the size of an insect, that could be a part of our everyday life in the near future.

But you may be wondering, why? Why build them, and what can they be used for?

One benefit is their size. These robots are seriously small.

They can fit on your fingertip, and weigh just a bit more than a paper clip. This allows them to navigate in tight spaces where other, larger robots just can’t reach.

The light they emit actually comes from the artificial muscles they use to flap their tiny, rubber-like wings.

Researchers say that ‘electro-luminescence’ also allows the robots to communicate with each other.

Those functions may seem simple, but when paired with the proper software, these firefly-bots could be used for all sorts of life-saving operations, like searching for survivors in a collapsed building and signaling for help.

These robotic fireflies have a long way to go until they become something we seen on store shelves, since scientists still face many technological hurdles.

But it’s still an exciting glimpse into the future, and an interesting example of bio-engineering.