Cyborgs are now Reality
We all know science fiction stories about cyborgs, creatures that are part man and part machine. Modern technology though is taking us in an unexpected direction. Instead of learning how to mate humans and machines, some researchers are working on building fully functioning and controllable cyborg insects.
Singapore's Cyber Insect
Dr. Hirotaka Sato, an aerospace engineer based in Singapore is one of the pioneers of this field. Dr. Sato and his team have been marrying machines to beetles. Using tiny connectors, they can stimulate individual muscles in beetles, allowing them to control the speed and even the gait of the beetle’s walk. Dr. Sato has gone far beyond that feat though and even developed the capability to control the beetle’s flight with a simple Nintendo Wii controller.
When asked what these cybernetic insects might be used for, he replied by pointing to counter terrorism efforts and crime scene investigation. One can also imagine them being of use when searching for survivors in collapsed mines and buildings.
USA's Bomb Sniffing Cyborg Locusts
Researchers at Washington University are working on a different but no less impressive project. They are pairing modern technology with locusts. Funded by the Office of Naval Research, the team, led by Dr. Baranidharan Raman is working on turning these crop-devouring insects into tiny bomb detectors. Dr. Raman had begun by developing a simple chemical sensor. It was not long though before he realized that nature had already provided an answer to his problem. The olfactory senses of the common locust are capable of detecting new odors in a fraction of a second. The only difficult part was being able to make use of this trait.
First, the researchers actually train the flying insects to identify specific odors. Detections are identified due to small electrodes implanted in the locusts’ brains which then feed directly into a tiny backpack. That backpack is actually an extremely tiny computer that processes and transmits the data detected by the locust. Normally, this is also where the battery would be connected.
However, due to weight considerations, Dr. Raman’s team devised a way to get power from the movement of the locust itself. Concerning movement, the researches have invented a simple way to control the locusts’ flight. They have put a tattoo on one of its wings. This tattoo absorbs light, meaning that when a laser is shown on it, the locust will immediately change course based on which side of the wing is targeted. It is likely that these bomb sniffing bugs will be deployed within a year, two at the most. These bio-mechanical creatures will be pressed into service to detect leftover bombs and mines from wars past as well as bombs that may have been hidden to go off at a later date and time.
As technology continues to progress more rapidly each day, it is likely that these examples of cybernetic organisms represent only the start of what will likely be a new technological revolution. Today, researchers are perfecting the art and science of creating cybernetic insects, tomorrow they may be doing similar work with dogs, birds, and other animals for purposes we cannot yet imagine.