The cyborgbeetleMan has yet to master nature, butnow he can make it turn left. Armedwith funding from the Pentagonsresearch wing, an engineering team atthe University of California, Berkeley,has devised a method of remotelycontrolling the flight of beetles.
By attaching radioantennas andembeddingelectrodes in theinsects opticlobes, flightmuscles andbrains, professorsMichel Maharbizand Hirotaka Sato
can manipulate their subjects intotaking off, hovering in midair andturning on command. The trick?Wirelessly delivering jolts to amicro battery fastened to a circuitboard atop the haplessinsects, whose agility and capacityto tote valuable payloads couldmake the tiny creatures theultimate fly on the wall.
The Pentagon has funded a project at UCBerkley in which scientists havesuccessfully grafted electrodes and tinyradio antennae to flying beetles--allowingresearchers to steer the beetles by remotecontrol. These cyborg beetles are bothfascinating and terrifying--the project ishelping scientists discover new insightsinto how beetles fly.
But experts are also already discussingthe possibilities a remote-controlledflying beetle can offer the military. Sohow does one create a remotecontrolled cyborg beetle, anyhow?Well, evidently, electrodes areimplanted at the beetles pupal stagein order to outfit the beetles forremote control later
Using Cyborg Beetlesfor Good or Evil? Andheres where things start toget a little unnerving--discussing how the militarywould be interested in takingadvantage of suchtechnology.
According to robotics professor NoelSharkey of UKs Sheffield University,theres not too much that the Pentagoncould with the beetles right now . GPSsystems or other tracking devices aretoo heavy and cumbersome to fit onbeetles backs. But he notes that thecyborg beetles could feasibly carrychemical weapons and could beeffective assassins, though this wouldbe highly illegal.
Brain-Recording Backpacks?Its a view echoed by Reid Harrison,an electrical engineer at theUniversity of Utah, Salt LakeCity, who has designed brain-recording backpacks for insects."Im skeptical about their ability todo surveillance for the followingreason: no one has solved thepower issue."
Batteries, solar cells andpiezoelectric that harvest energyfrom movement cannot provideenough power to run electrodesand radio transmitters for verylong, Harrison says. "Maybewell have some advances inthose technologies in the nearfuture, but based on what youcan get off the shelf now its noteven close."