| Friday 4th April
2008 | Issue 627
Back to the Full Issue
According to one study produced this week a third of British people are ‘paranoid’ - here’s one reason they might be right. (And no this really isn’t an April Fools story, honest.)
DARPA (the Pentagon’s Frankenstein department) have unveiled the results of their latest meddling with nature – cybernetic insects. The HI-MEMS project (Hybrid Insect - Micro Mechanical System) has succeeded in implanting cybernetic devices inside the pupae of beetles and moths. Project manager Amit Lal boasts that “new tissue forms around the insertions, making the bio-electronic interface long-lasting and reliable.” A Manduca moth had its thorax truncated to reduce its mass and a MEMS device added where abdominal segments would have been, during the larval stage.
Then there’s the cyborg beetle – re-engineered by DARPA with extra oxygen in an attempt to increase er ‘payload capacity’ with the possibility of full remote control. A robot Hawkmoth is also in the prototype stages. The ultimate goal of the HI-MEMS program “is the delivery of an insect within five metres of a specific target located a hundred meters away, using electronic remote control, and/or global positioning system (GPS)”.
If that doesn’t bug you then the real game in the field of nanobiotechnology is that the creepy crawlies become surveillance platforms – with onboard video, audio, chemical sensors, able to transmit data home. And being an insect, it could buzz past unnoticed.
There’s only one problem for the boffins, unfortunately early trials demonstrate that insects “may be diverted from their task by stronger influences" - i.e. all that eating, pollinating and reproducing that they’ve evolved to do over the last hundred million years.
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