Pentagon has been working on a special type of technology that would turn bugs in to something that would really live up to the multiple meanings of bug. Okay, I will give it to you straight – they are working on something that'll turn normal bugs in to remote controlled ones that can be controlled, erm…remotely and flown like a toy helicopter. Like I said, it is not just creepy, it is super creepy.
Scientists at University of California, Berkley have actually accomplished this task. They have successfully attached tiny electrodes and other electronic parts on to living insects. Through these implants, the bug can now be maneuvered through a laptop.
The engineering principle behind is not very difficult to understand. Since we human beings can’t exactly one-up nature on engineering, this is a sort of hack in to the system. It’s like installing a malware that takes control of your computer and then the malware creator manipulates your system through the implant.
The bugs are implanted with the electronic parts at the pupal stage or around the time when they retreat inside the pupa. This way, they actually grow up with parts implanted in them. Then when they are fully grown and take flight, the electrodes transmit electrical pulses in to their nervous system and muscles. So in case the controller wants the bug to veer left during flight, the electrodes charge the left muscles to make them work harder and the body turns left. Is it is just me or does this sound eerily similar to the way human beings were controlled in The Matrix?
The bug that is being shown off at this point is a Beetle. The developers of the system, Hirotaka Sato and Michel Maharbiz, talked to the Neuroscience Magazine and told them that they had successfully demonstrated remote control in free flight through an implantable radio-equipped neural transmitter.
Attempts to do things similar to this have been going on for several years now and it has already been tried on insects like cockroaches. But this the first time ever that man has been able to extend this kind of control on an insect. This is not necessarily a good thing though. However, as with every scientific achievement, what comes off it will depend on how we use it. And the identity of the people who are funding it already gives us a large enough hint as to what the purpose of this project might be.
The project is being funded by the Pentagon. More precisely, it is being funded by the US Defense Research Project Agency (DARPA) and they themselves have been trying to build a Nano Air Vehicle or NAV.
These NAVs would be small enough (less that 7.6cm and 10g) to go to places undetected and carry out reconnaissance missions in urban areas mainly. Even though we have advanced enough in the field of nano-technology to make the insect-implants, we are still unable to build something like that completely on our own.
So the military hopes that the beetles would act like micro air vehicles and give them unprecedented advantages during war.
Thankfully, nothing like that is possible immediately because the control implant is all that the insects can carry during flight. Any more weight and they will not be able to lift it with their wings. So things like a camera and a GPS transmitter are still quite far away from being implanted on to these insects, which would be the only way they could be of any use in war. They can still carry chemical and biological weapons but that would violate existing war laws.
It's funny that they are expected to abide by the law during a war. The developers are saying that this is only the initial stage and practical cyborg insects are anything between two to 10 years away. [BBC news]
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.