US Military Robot Insect Technology in Progress

Military scientists are currently working on a new type of robot technology – insect cyborgs, affectionately known as ‘cybugs’! The vision is to adapt actual insects to become surveillance platforms, equipped with cameras and able to access combat areas impenetrable to humans. Generally speaking, the main difficulty experienced so far in the creation of hugely scaled-down variants of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) like the Reaper and Predator drones currently tasked with surveillance missions over conflict zones like Afghanistan has been that of developing a power mechanism for them that combines low weight with high performance.

Insect Robots

However, insects already have the ability to fly and, for this very reason, the scientists are now looking to them. Rather than create insect-shaped military robot technology, though, they are seeking to blend robotic elements into the insects and create natural/artificial insect robot hybrids.

Initially, the plan was to fuse machinery onto the insects, but this measure was found to be unreliable. Now, through the Hi-Mems (Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) programme, research is underway into installing microchip technology into undeveloped insects, with the aim that their muscles and nerves will essentially “mix in” with the electronic elements, and that the resulting creatures can be manipulated remotely. While this could be a costly exercise, it is anticipated that constructing entirely artificial technology from the outset could be more expensive.

Natural metamorphosis from one type of insect to another (e.g. caterpillar-to-butterfly) would strengthen the internal elements, according to the theory behind the plan.

Hi-Mems has been taking place within the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for the past three years and, so far, $12 million in funding has been injected into it. A number of stranded sub-projects have evolved out of it, focusing on Horned Beetles, Moths and Roaches at several different institutions including MIT.

To date, researchers have successfully managed to control the motion of moths, although not yet in the air.

Surveillance Robots

Ultimately – once the scientists have gained 100 per cent control over these insects – it is envisaged that they could serve on the front line as surveillance robots – their cameras, sensor equipment and other gadgets aiding in detecting enemy forces or IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), for example. Insects do not traditionally have much of a life-span, but even this has been thought of – devices that help sustain them could be attached externally.

Furthermore, it is hoped that, rather than with batteries, the insects will basically power themselves using their own associated mechanical energy and turning it into electrical impulses.

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