Mine collapses. Nuclear Disasters. Post-earthquake rubble. Instead of sending in first responders to check out dangerous situations, we have increasingly turned to rescue robots that can survey situations and give the all-clear for human rescuers to enter. The next step–because, why not?–is to create cyborgs from living insects that can do the same thing.
Researchers at the University of Michigan College of Engineering are working on methods to harvest energy from insect wing motion to power “tiny backpacks” that the bugs carry on their backs. The backpacks could be filled with microphones, cameras, and gas sensors–so when the insect is sent off to investigate a disaster (equipped with neural electrode implants so that humans can control its movement), it can provide a detailed report to humans waiting safely away from any possible dangers.
During tests, researchers mounted prototypes of the device on the back of a Green June Beetle. Mechanical vibrations from the moving beetle were successfully converted to electrical output, which could be used to power onboard sensors.
Ultra-cheap robots–like Berkeley’s Dynamic Autonomous Sprawled Hexapod (DASH) bot–already exist and can be used in most rescue tasks. But the Michigan researchers have bigger designs for their insect cyborgs: according to The Engineer, these bugs might one day be used as remote-controlled air vehicles that maneuver through disaster situations in ways that crawling robots couldn’t even begin to attempt. Together with projects like the Swarming Micro Air Vehicle Network, these flying cyborg bugs could change the way we manage disasters, one swarm at a time.