From: on behalf of Hawkspirit []
Sent: Thursday, March 12, 2009 9:06 AM
Subject: [mcactivism] The Army's Remote-Controlled Beetle

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Army's Remote-Controlled Beetle

The insect's flight path can be wirelessly controlled via a neural implant.

By Emily Singer

A giant flower beetle with implanted electrodes and a radio receiver on its
back can be wirelessly controlled, according to research presented this
week. Scientists at the University of California developed a tiny rig that
receives control signals from a nearby computer. Electrical signals
delivered via the electrodes command the insect to take off, turn left or
right, or hover in midflight. The research, funded by the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA), could one day be used for surveillance
purposes or for search-and-rescue missions.

Beetles and other flying insects are masters of flight control, integrating
sensory feedback from the visual system and other senses to navigate and
maintain stable flight, all the while using little energy. Rather than
trying to re-create these systems from scratch,
<> Michel
Maharbiz and his colleagues aim to take advantage of the beetle's natural
abilities by melding insect and machine. His group has previously created
cyborg beetles, including ones that have been implanted with electronic
components as pupae. But the current research, presented at the IEEE MEMS in
Italy, is the first demonstration of a wireless beetle system.

The beetle's payload consists of an off-the-shelf microprocessor, a radio
receiver, and a battery attached to a custom-printed circuit board, along
with six electrodes implanted into the animals' optic lobes and flight
muscles. Flight commands are wirelessly sent to the beetle via a
radio-frequency transmitter that's controlled by a nearby laptop.
Oscillating electrical pulses delivered to the beetle's optic lobes trigger
takeoff, while a single short pulse ceases flight. Signals sent to the left
or right basilar flight muscles make the animal turn right or left,

Most previous research in controlling insect flight has focused on moths.
But beetles have certain advantages. The giant flower beetle's size--it
ranges in weight from four to ten grams and is four to eight centimeters
long--means that it can carry relatively heavy payloads. To be used for
search-and-rescue missions, for example, the insect would need to carry a
small camera and heat sensor.

In addition, the beetle's flight can be controlled relatively simply. A
single signal sent to the wing muscles triggers the action, and the beetle
takes care of the rest. "That allows the normal function to control the
flapping of the wings," says
<> Jay
Keasling, who was not involved in the beetle research but who collaborates
with Maharbiz. Minimal signaling conserves the battery, extending the life
of the implant. Moths, on the other hand, require a stream of electrical
signals in order to keep flying.

The research has been driven in large part by advances in the
microelectronics industry, with miniaturization of microprocessors and

Copyright Technology Review 2009.

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