In 2006, researchers at Cornell University invented a new surgical procedure to implant artificial structures into insects during their metamorphic development.
The first insect ‘cyborgs’, moths with integrated electronics in their thorax, were demonstrated by the same researchers and the initial success of the techniques has resulted in increased research and the creation of a program called Hybrid-Insect-MEMS, HI-MEMS.
The goal, according to the Microsystems Technology Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the United States Department of Defense is to develop “tightly coupled machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems inside the insects during the early stages of metamorphosis”.
Military research has recently focused on the utilisation of ‘cyborg’ animals for the purposes of gaining tactical advantage. DARPA has announced its interest in developing ‘cyborg insects’ to transmit data from sensors implanted into the insect during the pupal stage. The insect’s motion would be controlled from a Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) and could conceivably survey an environment or detect explosives and gas.
Similarly, DARPA is developing a neural implant to remotely control the movement of sharks whereby the shark’s unique senses would then be exploited to provide data feedback in relation to enemy ship movement or underwater explosives.
In 2009 at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Micro-electronic mechanical systems conference in Italy, researchers demonstrated the first “wireless” flying-beetle ‘cyborg’.
Engineers at the University of California at Berkeley have pioneered the design of a “remote controlled beetle”, funded by the DARPA HI-MEMS Program. Filmed evidence of this can be viewed here.This was followed later that year by the demonstration of wireless control of a “lift-assisted” moth-‘cyborg’.
The use of neural implants has recently been attempted, with success, on cockroaches. Surgically applied electrodes were put on the insect, which were remotely-controlled by a human. The results, although sometimes different, basically showed that the roach could be controlled by the impulses it received through the electrodes. DARPA is now funding this research because of its obvious beneficial applications to the military and other areas.
Eventually researchers plan to develop HI-MEMS for dragonflies, bees, rats and pigeons. For the HI-MEMS cybernetic bug to be considered a success, it must fly 100 meters from a starting point, guided via computer into a controlled landing within 5 meters of a specific end point. Once landed, the cybernetic bug must remain in place. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre