Monday, November 28, 2011

Engineers find a way to turn insects into cyborgs

Cyborgs can be used for various tasks. Especially ones that involve risk and danger. With this idea in mind, the University of Michigan has developed a way to load up an insect with various tools that turn it into a machine that we can control. The biggest hurdle was finding a method to provide it with enough energy so it can sustain itself. The researchers managed to find a way, creating an insect robot that we could send into dangerous situations to perform tasks we'd rather not leave to humans. 

Generating bio-electricity
The cyborg beetles are powered by scavenging energy from movement, by making use of the so-called piezoelectric effect, that generates an electrical current resulting from pressure. Also, a set of solar cells were mounted on the back of the beetle, and a tiny device scavenges energy from body heat. All three pieces provide the electricity for tiny batteries.
Cyborg equipment
The harvested energy can be used to power various useful tools, such as a microphone or a camera. This makes the cyborg beetle an interesting spy, but it can also be used to determine whether a suspicious suitcase holds a bomb, for example. We may also be able to load up sensors that check for dangerous gasses or other things that pose a health hazard. 

Remote control
With neural implants, the scientists are able to control the beetle's movement. Even though we do not fully understand how the brain works, even for such small and simple creatures, we know which parts are used for movement. By electrical stimulation, we can control the animal's legs, so we do not have to depend on the beetle's own initiative.

Cyborgs are in a way closely resembling robots. The difference is that a cyborg consists of biological components, in addition to electrical ones. Because nature has often found more elegant and efficient ways to create an organism, making a cyborg and using nature's machinery is a better tactic to create artificial life than creating everything yourself.

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