Cybugs: a bold idea hatches

So how do the researchers make the connection from the transmitter to the beetles so they can receive their instructions? It’s a delicate business, done by hand, one bug at a time. Beeswax is used to hold the anaesthetised beetles in place while small holes are pierced in the cuticle on their head and underneath their wings. Steel-wire electrodes, already soldered onto an electronic control board, are then threaded through the holes to the required depth in the brain. The board, including a tiny computer that runs control software, a radio receiver, an antenna and a battery, is strapped to the back of the beetle like a backpack and the bug is ready to be flown.

A member of Marharbiz’s HI-MEMS team, Hirotaka Sato, established that the Mecynorrhina beetles could be ”switched on and off” by applying repeated positive and negative-voltage pulses to electrodes implanted between the left and right optic lobes of the insects’ brains and that stringing varying numbers of these flight initiation pulses together allowed him to control the vertical tilt of the beetle’s flight and thus control altitude. For left-right control, he turned to the muscles. Direct stimulation of the basalar muscle, found underneath the wing, with low-frequency electric pulses acted as basic turning commands.

Given the project is funded by DARPA, the researchers are under some pressure to come up with ”cybernetic organisms” that will eventually have military applications and they have a way to go yet. Obviously, a large beetle with an electric backpack flying about a room would not exactly represent a breakthrough in stealthy surveillance, a point Marharbiz readily concedes.

via Cybugs: a bold idea hatches.

Forgive me for worrying about how paranoid the existence of remote control organic bugs with cameras on them is likely to make people. This is NOT a step towards curing mental patients, at the very least. And if they get rid of the need for an external backpack on the bugs, making them look just like their natural counterparts, the utility they provide is a little scary in the wrong (ie, DARPA’s) hands…

I will hand it to them though, DARPA never disappoints with their technology…even if it’s for evil purposes, they sure can innovate. I can’t say I wouldn’t want a few of these things to patrol a sizable plot of land if I had one…especially if they also built a laser into it’s head…


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