Creating Cyborgs: The Giant Flower Beetle
Meet the scientists combining drone technology with insect biology.
The development of Cyborg Insects is a rising trend that could heavily influence the future of intelligence gathering and covert operations but could also have an impact in areas such as search & rescue and in the collection of biological data.
Last year Mothership published a well-done short documentary, outlining the ambition and tech behind these flight-controlled beetles. In scientific & technological communities this innovation is opening up a new world of biotech possibilities.
The technology works by hacking (in its most literal sense) the neuromuscular system of large species of flying beetles. Direct nerve stimulation allows the flight of the insect to be controlled via remote contol.
The Giant Flower Beetle is used because they are relatively easy to operate on surgically than a smaller insect such as a mosquito or an ant, and they can also carry the extra weight of a battery, nerve-stimulating electrodes and radio receiver during flight.
This technology will continue to progress at a quickening speed accompanying the development of smaller and more robust neuromuscular interfaces. This could also give rise to increased solutions for human amputees and people suffering from nerve damage.
But what consequences could this have on the future of security, privacy and data collection?
The combined initiatives of sensor miniaturization and the increasing interest in big data collection could create a future in which cyborg insects are an integral part of our reality… The continuation of a larger societal trend and a potentially powerful tool for the intelligence gathering community.
In the 1960’s the US Military spent millions of dollars on marine animal research with the objective to weaponize various aquatic life and creating a new breed of militant spy.
Naturally, dolphins were heavily researched and received a lot of attention due to their speed and intellect. The image of a laser equipped dolphin will forever hold a place in my heart.
With the rise of this new technology, a similar project could be employed today among the various insect species creating an army of covert spies designed to infiltrate buildings and collect private information.
Of course however, creating cutting edge spy technology is not the objective of the researchers perusing this project. They aim to equip insects with thermal sensors and other gear so that they can navigate dangerous spaces in order to save human lives.
Collapsed buildings are often very unstable and having a semi-autonomous insect navigate and crawl about the rubble could greatly increase the chance of finding survivors before its too late.
This is a plausible moral reason to pursue development but there could be room for abuse, some are already claiming animal abuse over the research.
Regardless of the intent, we will monitor the progression together and, as the technology continues to evolve we could witness the rise of a totally new class of organism:
The US military is perusing a similar line of research also using giant flower beetles. For further reading try this article from the MIT Technology Review.
Thanks For Reading!
Drew Dennis is a BioChemistry Student at the University of British Columbia in, Canada. In his free time he enjoys hiking in the Rocky Mountains examining things through a magnifying glass.