Cyborg Beetles

By | November 26, 2009

The Pentagon have been dabbling in the field of robotics for some time now, and one of their newer projects is buzzing nearer completion. We’re talking about remote-controlled beetles that can be stirred in the right direction, but allowed to fly on their own. In the future, plans are to equip these insects with tiny cameras to help search for survivors of disasters, or with sensors to sniff out potential chemical weapons.

Watch the video of a remote-controlled beetle below.

To make it clear—these beetles are not robots, but cyborgs. They are actually living creatures that have been implemented with electronic parts to influence their movements, not unlike reigns on a horse. To help them adjust, this “modification” takes place in the pupa stage when they are still developing. When they are fully grown, the beetles can be commanded by electric signals controlled by a laptop that are transmitted to their nervous systems. Researchers at the Agiltron Corporation, who are contracted to the project, plan to implement another system in the insects that will have them twitch when they detect hazardous chemicals.

Other, more vocal insets, like crickets, are also lined up for modification. They will be equipped with MEMS transceivers that will receive specific sounds made by other cyborg crickets, formulate the data and carry it on to other insects. This will create a sort of wireless network of information that can be remotely monitored.

This is, of course, a very interesting development, albeit a bit reminiscent of sci-fi horror movies. Some have questioned the ethics of the procedures, and wonder if or where a line will be drawn. If we start out with insects, would we move on to hamsters, rabbits, dogs…one day even illegal human experiments?

Nonetheless, one of the bigger problems right now is actually getting the insects to live longer. The modifications take their toll, and the beetles burn out before they can be used for something other than research.

[source NewScientist]