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"Science and science fiction, how do you even distinguish the two?"
- Jerry Pournelle

Repair Drones  
  Small flying construction and repair machines.  

A sudden rushing sound, like that of high-velocity ducted air, mixed with a fainter electric whine, came from halfway up the wall to their right... It was an array of open compartments that looked like pigeon holes for mail, except that each was a foot or more square...

The noise was coming from one of these objects. The object that it was coming from was a dull-gray cylinder about six inches across, lying on its side on top of a flat tubular framework that contained a mass of tightly packed gadgetry and wiring. The near end of the cylinder was distinctly insectlike, with a profusion of miniature probes and jointed arms, and a circle of recessed windows that could have been lens apertures.

The whole thing was starting to move.

As they watched speechless, it slid smoothly out of its cell like a metal wasp emerging from its nest, and hung in midair a foot or so in front of the pigeonholes...

The wasp homed unerringly on the face of the honeycomb. It extended three of its tiny arms sideways to lock onto the registration pins located at intervals across the face and then, holding itself quite steady in the air, traversed slowly sideways until its axis was aligned with the array element from which Chris had taken the cartridge. Nobody could see quite what happened next because the wasp was flush against the face, but suddenly the widget-maker clicked into life again. The wasp detached itself and turned back to point at its cell. There was no need for Hayes to explain what had happened. It didn't take much thought to see that other wasps, equipped with suitable tools and carrying the right selection of parts, could replace far more things than just electronic microcartridges, provided of course that the equipment being serviced had been designed for it. "They're called drones," Hayes told them. "I'm sure I don't have to spell out the idea."

From The Two Faces of Tomorrow, by James P. Hogan.
Published by Del Rey in 1979
Additional resources -

Thanks to Winchell Chung for contributing this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Two Faces of Tomorrow
  More Ideas and Technology by James P. Hogan
  Tech news articles related to The Two Faces of Tomorrow
  Tech news articles related to works by James P. Hogan

Repair Drones-related news articles:
  - Autonomous Construction By Teams Of Quadrotor Robots
  - Quadrotor Robots Improve Building Skills Video
  - RFly Drones Rule The Warehouse

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