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Insect Cyborgs - Biomechatronic Spies

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a technique that uses an electronic interface to remotely control or steer cockroaches. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at NC State, says “Our aim was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small spaces”.

One of the applications will be a mobile web of smart sensors cockroaches that will be used to collect and transmit information, such as finding survivors in a building that has been destroyed by an earthquake.

Cockroaches are experts at performing in such a hostile environment so they are better than small-scale robots that can perform in such uncertain, dynamic conditions. Embedding a low-cost, light-weight, commercially-available chip with a wireless receiver and transmitter onto each Madagascar hissing cockroaches allows to control the roaches, to ensure the roaches operate within defined parameters.
The cockroach backpack consists of microcontroller, electrodes and an antenna. A microcontroller (wired to the roach’s antennae and cerci) monitors the interface between the implanted electrodes and the tissue to avoid potential neural damage Cerci, normally used to detect movement in the air that could indicate a predator is approaching, is used by the researchers to spur the roach into motion. The wires attached to the antennae serve as electronic reins, injecting small charges into the roach’s neural tissue.
Video of the experiment:
More sophisticated method of steering insects is the idea of metamorphic insertions, that was coined as “Early Metamorphic Insertion Technology (EMIT)”.
The EMIT procedure has opened an alternative window for neural-engineers to explore the details of insect flight neurodynamics and its control by allowing the implantation of various micro devices through a simple surgery with minimal or no resulting tissue damage. Following initial demonstrations of this metamorphic surgery procedure at Cornell, other groups also used this method to implant systems to stimulate the abdomen of moths (MIT and University of Washington), as well as the brain and the wing muscles of beetles (University of Michigan and University of California, Berkeley). All these works were fully supported by DARPA HIMEMS programme.

It is possible, that the Pentagon would also love these bionic critters for other functions and there will be biomechatronic spies flying the skies of the world sooner than we can imagine.


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