Scientists at the University of California created a neural implant for a beetle that gives them wireless control over the insect. Electrical signals delivered via the electrodes command the insect to take off, turn left or right, or hover in midflight.
Beetles and other flying insects are masters of flight control, integrating sensory feedback from the visual system and other senses to navigate and maintain stable flight, all the while using little energy. Rather than trying to re-create these systems from scratch, Michel Maharbiz and his colleagues aim to fuse the ‘born’ with the ‘made’.
The researchers currently have three different sized cyborg beetles: Cotinis texana (2 cm, 0.3 g payload), Mecynorhina torquata (7 cm, 1.8 g payload) and Megasoma elephas (20 cm, 4.0 g payload). Smaller one navigates into tiny spots while larger one carries heavier extra instruments (ex. miniaturized camera). The neural stimulator consists of a microcontroller and a microbattery, both of which were mounted on dorsal thorax of the beetles.
The research, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), could one day be used for surveillance purposes or for search-and-rescue missions. It is unknown if they are also planning to equip beetles with tiny machine guns.