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Robobugs - Insect Cyborgs

Updated on January 16, 2012

Insect, Cyborgs, and Popular Culture

Robobugs To The Rescue

image by turatti on Flickr
image by turatti on Flickr

Robobugs: Robo Bugs And Insect Cyborgs

Robobugs and insect cyborgs are essentially an offshoot in a branch of robotics and bionics that aims to mimic insect behavior through either creating complete robots which imitate insect behavior like motion, or more insidiously, designing and manufacturing insect cyborgs which allow real insects to be monitored, manipulated, and controlled through remote control, computer program, or some other form of direction. Certainly, there have been many advances in the area of bionics to the point where the Ornithopter, which was once only dreamed about by the likes of Leonardo DaVinci, is now being produced as a children's toy. Science fiction is full of renderings of robobugs and insect cyborgs but how close has actual science evolved to actually being able to create robo bugs like the robotic spiders Tom Cruise, as John Anderton, faced in the neo-noir film Minority Report. This article will take a look at some of the latest innovations and progress in the field of robobugs and insect cyborgs and try to look at the current state of affairs in this very real future.

To begin an exploration into the field of robobugs you may do well to convince yourself that such things are very real and that projects are being pursued by corporations as well as governments to advance the insect cyborg abilities and be the first to truly master this technology which could then be used as a tool or a weapon. The United States defense agency DARPA has unveiled publicly a program titled Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) which has been designed to do just that. A primary goal of the HI-MEMS project is to design futuristic technology to control the locomotion of insects effectively creating insect cyborgs. Just as an equestrian athlete may control a horse through the use of reigns, the HI-MEMS robobug project seeks similar capabilities for use on this subclass of the arthropods. This could conceivably mean creating controlling mechanisms to remotely control these fascinating invertebrate's flight patterns (the only group of invertebrates that can fly is insects) or the HI-MEMS project might tap into the walking gait of such insects and maneuver them to meet human desire. These insect cyborgs will make use of the highly efficient and evolved biological systems inherent in insects to outperform the batteries and motors of conventional robotics. That is one of the goals of the project anyway. One of the problem of early adopter's of the insect cyborg idea is the necessity to power the machine-insect interface in order to deliver a suitable lifetime for the different sensors, recording devices, or other electronic components. Recent advancements have seen biology researchers create an implantable biofuel cell that harvests chemical energy from the slave insect's body and converts it to electricity for use in controlling things. Cockroaches have been a prime candidate for insect cyborg research due to their body having enough surface area to hold the machine-insect interface and also in part because the cockroach is one of the fastest walking insects. The cockroach produces a sugar trehalose from it's food and from there the biofuel cell implant breaks down the trehalose into two monosaccarides using an enyme. Next, a second enzyme oxidizes these simpler sugars in order to release electrons which are captured by a cathode that has been implanted into the cockroach's circulatory system. Unlike humans and other vertebrates, invertebrates have an open circulatory system which means that the blood pressure is not high and makes devices such as the described fuel cell feasible.

. A true army of insect cyborgs could be gearing up as we speak and Raid spray might not be enough.


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    • Vegas Elias profile image

      Vegas Elias 5 years ago from Mumbai

      This was an interesting hub. I voted you up for this. Nano technology saves a lot of resources. I feel we will also have nano satellites and nano rockets to explore the solar system and beyond. As they would be small they could be solar powered.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Tool or weapon. Eventually every tool that can becomes a weapon, but DARPA's mandate is long-term military research. Voted up and interesting. Too bad there's not a "scary" category. Nice article.