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Scientists developing remote-control cyborg moths

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August 20, 2014

A moth in the NCSU flight-assessment rig

A moth in the NCSU flight-assessment rig

We've been hearing a lot about the development of tiny flying sensor-equipped robots, that could be sent into areas such as disaster sites to seek out survivors or survey the damage. However, why go to the trouble of designing those robots from scratch, when there are already ready-made insects that are about the right size? That's the thinking behind research being conducted at North Carolina State University, which is aimed at converting moths into "biobots."

Led by Dr. Alper Bozkurt, the NCSU team has been working with moths suspended in a rig that holds them in place while they fly, but still allows them to turn to either side. As the moths make those turns, implanted electrodes monitor the electrical signals sent by their brains to their flight muscles – those electrodes are first implanted when the moth is in its pupal stage, so they've grown right into its body by the time it emerges from the cocoon as an adult.

Using this setup, the researchers have been able to determine which signals are responsible for which flight maneuvers. They're now working on a way of transmitting those signals to the moths as they're in flight, so that they could be "steered" by a remotely-located human operator.

According to Bozkurt, this work will include "developing an automated system to explore and fine-tune parameters for controlling moth flight, further miniaturizing the technology, and testing the technology in free-flying moths." If all else fails, he has already had considerable success with cockroach-based biobots.

A paper on the latest research was recently published in the Journal of Visualized Experiments.

Source: North Carolina State University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
4 Comments

Finding the signal is one thing, oveturning the bug's desire to go left when you want it to go right is another

Nairda
20th August, 2014 @ 09:21 pm PDT

I'll bet that at this very moment someone somewhere is busily developing a method of controlling humans in a similar manner. Obviously the flying bit is going to prove a little difficult, but the fundamentals are far from impossible.

Unlike poor old Sirhan Sirhan, they will at least have some physical evidence as to why they did whatever it is they will do.

Mel Tisdale
21st August, 2014 @ 03:09 am PDT

Where is PETA here? How can they not be protesting the cruelty?

f8lee
21st August, 2014 @ 08:47 am PDT

You know... palmetto bugs are a cockroach that flies... and have the throw weight to carry a nice payload too. Just sayin'...

Bob Ehresman
21st August, 2014 @ 10:37 am PDT
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