Man has yet to master nature, but now he can make it turn left. Armed with funding from the Pentagon's research wing, an engineering team at the University of California, Berkeley, has devised a method of remotely controlling the flight of beetles. By attaching radio antennas and embedding electrodes in the insects' optic lobes, flight muscles and brains, professors Michel Maharbiz and Hirotaka Sato can manipulate their subjects into taking off, hovering in midair and turning on command. The trick? Wirelessly delivering jolts to a microbattery fastened to a circuit board atop the hapless insects, whose agility and capacity to tote valuable payloads could make the tiny creatures the ultimate fly on the wall.
The 50 Best Inventions of 2009
From a rocket of the future to a $10 million lightbulb, here are TIME's picks for the best new gadgets and breakthrough ideas of the year