Monday, September 17, 2012


At the intersection of robo-animals, animal robots,  and crittercams lie insects electronically modified to suit our purposes:

Mosquitoes (1st image)
In June, Network World ran an article about the development, over the last several years, of micro air vehicles (MAVs) - insect-sized devices disguised as dragonflies or mosquitoes and operated remotely as spy drones. While the image above is a fabrication, and robotic insects capable of landing on a person's skin and using their needles to take a DNA sample or inject a tracking device are (apparently) things of science fiction, Snopes does not dispute the development of MAVs by the U.S. Government.

Cockroaches (2nd image)
North Carolina State University engineer Alper Bozkurt and colleagues are surgically implanting electrodes in the antennae and rear sensors of roaches, and attaching tiny backpacks that contain a wireless control system, a locator beacon, and a tiny microphone. The miniature equipment turns the bugs into "biobots" (biological robots) and allows the scientists to control them. By sending them into hard-to-access areas, steering them remotely, and monitoring the results, the scientists hope roaches will one day help locate earthquake survivors. Bozkurt explains why the bugs are superior to mechanical robots: "They come with a self-powered locomotion system. And they have biological autonomy to help them survive—they will run away when they sense danger, which makes them hard to trap or squash. That's really useful in uncertain, dynamic environments."

Honeybees (3rd image)
San Francisco State University entomologist John Hafernik and colleagues are gluing tiny radiofrequency identification tags onto about 500 infected honeybees. The bees have been attacked by parasitic maggots and consequently desert their hives at night, fly around outdoor lights, and then circle erratically on the ground before dying. The researchers have fitted the entry/exit of the hive with laser scanners to monitor their comings and goings. They hope the data will reveal whether the maggots are mind-controlling the honeybees and whether this has anything to do with the mass die-offs of bee populations, although Hafernik says, "We think it's a long shot that these parasites are the main cause of colony collapse disorder."

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