Sure, those hormone-induced super soldier ants from last week were scary, but their grand schemes for conquest would be limited to securing misplaced sugar cubes, long forgotten by their previous human owners. But cyborg bugs controlled by DARPA? Who wants to fight an army of dung beetles?
The project’s official name is the “Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems”, or HI-MEMS, and its primary goal isn’t to take over your pantry with extreme prejudice, but to locate dangerous obstacles, such as mines, or locate hidden nuclear weapon caches.
HI-MEMS is currently at an experimental phase, but DARPA is willing to try anything, from “electrical muscle excitation” to bypassing muscles and hitting up neurons directly. The plan is to harness all the tools the insect has at its disposal — so instead of attaching tiny cameras to its back, its sensory organs and optics will be used, if possible. The interface will ultimately allow the insect’s movement to be controlled remotely, so it can safely — and inconspicuously — investigate whatever the military wants.
How it all works reads like something out of a William Gibson novel, you know, if William Gibson had been Jiminy Cricket. Instead of chemical batteries, the system is powered by fat, nature’s preferred power source (after the sun, of course). Failing that, thermo-electric converters, piezoelectric generators and even “broadband energy scavengers” could see use. The technology itself is “tightly coupled” to the insect as it grows, with the idea being that as the little guy develops, it will create, and strengthen, the bonds between the electronics and organic tissue.
We’re so busy developing ablative armours and missile-destroying lasers, when it turns out we should be focusing our efforts on… bullet-proof fly screens? I’m not sure what will prepare us for the coming insect apocalypse.