An insect army awaits you. A team of engineers has developed a way to remotely control the movement of this beetle in incredible detail, finely tuning its gait, step length and walking speed. The team of engineers, from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the University of California Berkley, has created the cyborg Mecynorrhina torquata beetle by inserting electrodes into its legs. Its microchip backpack can then be used to send impulses that control the creature.
There have been examples of remote-controlled cyborg creatures in the past — including beetles and cockroaches — but the researchers claim that this represents "the first demonstration of living insect locomotion control with a user-adjustable walking gait, step length and walking speed." The results are published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
The team studied the way the beetles walked in detail, then developed a system of electrical impulses that could recreate their motion. By injecting the impulses into the legs of the beetles, they found they could have the beetles walk in one of two different gaits, also adjusting step length and walking speed along the way. It's comforting to hear that, when the electrodes were removed, the beetles went on to live out their usual lifespan.
The team reckons the creature could be used as an alternative to mechanical drones. From the journal paper:
[U]nlike man-made legged robots for which many tiny parts, sensors and actuators are manufactured, assembled and integrated, the insect — computer hybrid robots directly use living insects as Nature's ready-made robot platforms. The only necessary 'assembly' or 'operation' to create an insect — computer hybrid robot is to mount a miniature radio device and implant thin wire electrodes into appropriate neuromuscular sites on the insect for electrical stimulation to induce the desired motor actions and behaviours.
Quite what these beetle-based drones might be used for remains to be seen. But it's nonetheless an impressive achievement.
Image by Nanyang Technological University and the University of California Berkeley