MEMS insect to flutter into enemy camps


We’ve come a long way since Maxwell Smart, a fictional character in the 1965-1970 NBC/CBS spy spoof series, Get Smart, used a pencil listening device and other assorted gadgets to help him spy on the bad guys. Now, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) uses a moth to accomplish the same goal.

In fact, a moth implanted with a computer chip when the insect is still a pupa is someday expected to fly into northern Pakistan and flutter around a suspected terrorist training camp. The moth will be able to land in the camp-without arousing suspicion-while beaming video and other information back to its creators via what they call “reliable tissue-machine interface.” The creature would “host” one or more sensors, such as a microphone or a gas sensor, and would be able to relay back information gathered from the target destination.

The U.S. military hopes that “cyborg” moths will one day help soldiers spy on insurgents.
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DARPA, the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, conceived of this robotics project that consisted of the creation of insects whose flesh grows around computer parts (known as “cyborgs” to science fiction junkies).

Rod Brooks, director of the computer science and artificial intelligence lab at MIT, which is involved with the research, says that robotics was “increasingly at the forefront of U.S. military research, and the remote-controlled moths, described as MEMS, were one of several technologies that would be deployed in combat.”

Brooks adds that “moths are creatures that need little food and can fly in all kinds of places.” Although there have been other experiments where rats and cockroaches have been operated on and driven by joysticks, “this is the first time where the chip has been injected in the pupa stage and ‘grown’ inside it.”

The goal of the MEMS is to control the locomotion by obtaining motion trajectories either from GPS coordinates, or using RF, optical, ultrasonic signals based on remote control.
-Marcy Koff