Autonomous insect cyborg sentinels

In a very brief article, AZoNano reports that nanotechnology is turning insects into flying cyborgs. Researchers from Cornell University have implanted 'microfluidic devices in insects before they hatch into fully grown flying creatures.' Of course, when they grow, these insects still carry the sensors. And if this works, they'll be used for monitoring and security surveillance. The article doesn't say that this project is funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which has a full Hybrid Insect MEMS program. The goal of this program is to realize 'cyborgs with most of the machine component inside the insect body to provide stealthy robots' at low cost.

In a very brief article, AZoNano reports that nanotechnology is turning insects into flying cyborgs. Researchers from Cornell University have implanted 'microfluidic devices in insects before they hatch into fully grown flying creatures.' Of course, when they grow, these insects still carry the sensors. And if this works, they'll be used for monitoring and security surveillance. The article doesn't say that this project is funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which has a full Hybrid Insect MEMS program. The goal of this program is to realize 'cyborgs with most of the machine component inside the insect body to provide stealthy robots' at low cost.

HI-MEMS derived technologies will enable many robotic capabilities at low cost, impacting the development of future autonomous defense systems. The realization of "cyborgs with most of the machine component inside the insect body to provide stealthy robots" that use muscle actuators which have been developed over millions of years of evolution.

An insect cyborg sentinel

You can see above one of these insect cyborg sentinels. The image shows "an emerged Manduca Sexta moth after pupa stage silicon device implantation." (Credit: David Erickson, Cornell University) For more images, here is a link to a video that the team has put on YouTube (2 minutes).

This research work has been done by David Erickson, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University and the members of his lab. Here is how he describes the project (scroll towards the bottom of the page): "In this work we are developing nanofluidic devices which are 'intimately fused' with living systems, namely insects. Specifically we are attempting to exert rapid, active and potentially autonomous, chemical control over insect cyborg functionality."

Much of the funding for this project comes from DARPA's Microsystems Technology Office (MTO), which has devoted more than US$2 million to the Hybrid Insect MEMS (HI-MEMS) program.

Here is the introduction to this program: "Animal world has provided mankind with locomotion over millennia. For example we have used horses and elephants for locomotion in wars and conducting commerce. Birds have been used for sending covert messages, and to detect gases in coal mines, a life-saving technique for coal miners. More recently, olfactory training of bees has been used to locate mines and weapons of mass destruction. The HI-MEMS program is aimed to develop technology that provides more control over insect locomotion, just as saddles and horseshoes are needed for horse locomotion control."

And it goes further. "The HI-MEMS program is aimed at developing tightly coupled machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems inside the insects during the early stages of metamorphosis. These early stages include the caterpillar and the pupae stages. Since a majority of the tissue development in insects occurs in the later stages of metamorphosis, the renewed tissue growth around the MEMS will tend to heal, and form a reliable and stable tissue-machine interface. The goal of the MEMS, inside the insects, will be to control the locomotion by obtaining motion trajectories either from GPS coordinates, or using RF, optical, ultrasonic signals based remote control."

And what's the goal? Build cheap armies of robots. "HI-MEMS derived technologies will enable many robotic capabilities at low cost, impacting the development of future autonomous defense systems. The realization of cyborgs with most of the machine component inside the insect body will provide stealthy robots that use muscle actuators which have been developed over millions of years of evolution."

It's also instructive to read what wrote DARPA when it was soliciting research proposals in the area of Hybrid Insect MEMS. "DARPA seeks innovative proposals to develop technology to create insect-cyborgs, possibly enabled by intimately integrating microsystems within insects, during their early stages of metamorphoses. The healing processes from one metamorphic stage to the next stage are expected to yield more reliable bio-electromechanical interface to insects, as compared to adhesively bonded systems to adult insects. Once these platforms are integrated, various microsystem payloads can be mounted on the platforms with the goal of controlling insect locomotion, sense local environment, and scavenge power."

And here is a last quote about what these insect cyborgs will have to do. "The final demonstration goal of the HI-MEMS program is the delivery of an insect within five meters of a specific target located at hundred meters away, using electronic remote control, and/or global positioning system (GPS). Although flying insects are of great interest (e.g. moths and dragonflies), hopping and swimming insects could also meet final demonstration goals. In conjunction with delivery, the insect must remain stationary either indefinitely or until otherwise instructed. The insect-cyborg must also be able to transmit data from DOD relevant sensors, yielding information about the local environment."

We should see the results of this program by 2010. But if it's successful, I bet you'll watch a fly or a mosquito with a new look.

Sources: AZoNano, June 21, 2007; and various websites

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