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Meet the Cyborg Beetles, Real Insects That Are Controlled Like Robots

Scientists can precisely control the insects' movements through electrical stimulation, and say they could be used to save human lives.

The future is crawling towards us on six legs. Motherboard traveled to Singapore to meet with Dr. Hirotaka Sato, an aerospace engineer at Nanyang Technological University. Sato and his team are turning live beetles into cyborgs by electrically controlling their motor functions.

Having studied the beetles' muscle configuration, neural networks, and leg control, the researchers wired the insects so that they could be controlled by a switchboard. In doing so, the researchers could manipulate the different walking gaits, speeds, flying direction, and other forms of motion.

Essentially, the beetles became like robots with no control over their own motor functioning. Interestingly, though the researchers control the beetles through wiring, their energy still comes naturally from the food they eat. Hence, the muscles are driven by the insects themselves, but they have no willpower over how their muscles move.

Moreover, turning beetles into cyborgs seems to not be that harmful to them. Their natural lifespan is three to six months, and even with the researchers' interference, they can survive for several months. According to the researchers, a beetle has never died right after stimulation.

And while this technology may seem crazy, the implications are very practical. Sensors that detect heat, and hence people, can be placed on the beetles, so that they can be manipulated to move toward a person. This can be helpful when searching for someone, such as in a criminal investigation or finding a terrorist.

The researchers are very serious about ensuring that whatever the applications are for this technology, that they go toward peaceful purposes. And who knows how far it could go? With this much progress manipulating the motor functions of creatures as small as beetles, perhaps it can be used for even bigger animal targets.

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