US Engineers Creating an Army of Cyborg InsectsThe engineers are looking into ways to harvest energy from the creatures to power sensors and other equipment attached to their bodies. The team has created an energy scavenging device that is connected near the insects’ wings.
The engineers have also suggested that one day the devices could be used in important search-and-rescue operations and surveillance. The University of Michigan engineers published their study in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.
Equipping the Bugs
The report stated that, although there have been significant developments in the area of micro-air-vehicle technology, they couldn’t quite match the aerodynamic performance and maneuverability of insects. But, the report said that if insects were to be strapped with control mechanisms and other add-ons, the equipment would need a source of energy.
The engineers didn’t like the idea of using mini solar panels since they would be dependent on available light. Instead, they decided to create a vibration energy collector. The end result is composed of a small three-layered spiral generator.
The two outermost layers are composed of PZT-5H a ceramic substance that creates an electrical charge when mechanical stress is applied. The innermost layer is made of brass and serves to provide extra reinforcement. The team used Green June Beetles to figure out the spot to place the device. They determined that the wings were the most promising source of energy.
Not Strong EnoughBut, the creatures’ wing membranes weren’t sturdy enough to hold the device, and it made them less aerodynamic. The engineers instead decided to focus on the animals’ wing muscle. They eventually decided to place two of the spiral beams to each beetle’s thorax. The end of each coil stretched out to touch a hardened part of the insect’s body near its wing base where it could absorb energy.
The two devices had a total weight less than a fifth of a gram and produced 45 microwatts of power during flight. The scientists think that the devices could eventually become the energy source for an army of remote controlled cyborg insects with neutral electrodes implants, communications equipment, microphones and various other sensors. The creatures would fly around wearing small “backpacks”.
The insects could then be released into dangerous or inaccessible areas after accidents have happened. The information that they obtain could be sent back to the emergency response units to prepare a response strategy. They think the creatures could usher in “a new era for search-and-rescue operations, surveillance, monitoring of hazardous substances, and detection of explosives”.
This isn’t the first instance of scientists turning animals into remote-controlled tools. The report’s authors cited experiments in which researchers tried to manipulate rats through regions of their brains associated with their whiskers, another experiment that tried to control sharks by stimulating the areas of their brain linked to the sharks’ sense of smell.
The engineers also mentioned a previously failed experiment of theirs where they tried to use moths but the weight of the device was too heavy.