Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Creepy-crawlies that are really creepy

Image courtesy of Danger Room blog on the Wired network

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, issued a request for proposals back in 2006 for the creation of cyborg insects. According to a report at the time:

DARPA wants to develop inexpensive MAVs [micro aerial vehicles] to find weapons and explosives inside buildings or caves. Mechanical and fluidic microsystems would allow remote control, could extend insect life, and provide for gas, audio and even imaging sensors. Insects would have MEMS [micro-electromechanical systems] inserted during their growth cycle, providing for production line-like integration with the creature’s biological functions. “During locomotion [the] insect thorax generates heat and mechanical power, which may be harnessed to power the microsystem payload,” says DARPA.

One goal is for a remote pilot to fly a cyborg insect to within 100m (300ft) of a target. Control could be maintained using pheromones or mechano-sensor activation and direct muscle or neural interfaces.

Well, the researchers haven't been asleep on the job. A few days ago Robert Michelson of the Georgia Institute Of Technology Research Institute presented a paper at the MAV '08 conference in Agra, India entitled "MAV System Design and integration Issues". According to a news report:

In the latest work a Manduca moth had its thorax truncated to reduce its mass and had a MEMS component added where abdominal segments would have been, during the larval stage.

Images taken by x-ray of insects with these changes and others found that tissue growth around the inserted probes was good. One DARPA goal is to show that during locomotion the heat and mechanical power generated by the thorax could be harnessed to power the MEMS.

. . .

He added that drawbacks included the short life-span of insects, which means they could be dead before they are needed, and the fact that MEMS insertion was labour-intensive.

Uh . . . yeah, Professor, I can see how dead cyborg moths might be counter-productive!

As well-known defense blogger Noah Schachtman observed in his comments on these developments, "The cyborgs also offer unparalleled opportunities for lab workers to shout, "It's alive! It's aliiiiiiiive!!!"

It occurs to me that well-known household and camping products might now be re-classified as elements of chemical counter-warfare. After all, if Deet repels insects and Raid kills them, what happens when a cyborg insect is deterred or destroyed? Does this mean we'll have to examine every insect under a magnifying glass to make sure it's not Government property before we kill it? Would using Raid on a cyborg insect lead to a raid of a different kind - by a SWAT team, on our homes?

This could get interesting . . .


1 comment:

LMB said...

The really scary thing is this: If you swat the damned thing when it's in your house, are you going to be charged with destruction of government property?

And what happens during mating season? Is their control system strong enough to resist ancient instincts like this?