Insect cyborgs may become first responders, search and monitor hazardous environs

Nov 23, 2011

( -- Research conducted at the University of Michigan College of Engineering may lead to the use of insects to monitor hazardous situations before sending in humans.

Professor Khalil Najafi, the chair of electrical and computer engineering, and doctoral student Erkan Aktakka are finding ways to harvest energy from insects, and take the utility of the miniature cyborgs to the next level.

"Through energy scavenging, we could potentially power cameras, microphones and other sensors and communications equipment that an insect could carry aboard a tiny backpack," Najafi said. "We could then send these 'bugged' bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go."

The principal idea is to harvest the insect's biological energy from either its or movements. The device converts the kinetic energy from wing movements of the insect into electricity, thus prolonging the battery life. The battery can be used to power small sensors implanted on the insect (such as a small camera, a microphone or a ) in order to gather vital information from hazardous environments.

Images credit: Erkan Aktakka

A spiral piezoelectric generator was designed to maximize the power output by employing a compliant structure in a limited area. The technology developed to fabricate this prototype includes a process to machine high-aspect ratio devices from bulk piezoelectric substrates with minimum damage to the material using a .

In a paper called "Energy scavenging from insect flight" (recently published in the ), the team describes several techniques to scavenge from wing motion and presents data on measured power from beetles.

This research was funded by the Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems program of the under grant No. N66001-07-1-2006. The facilities used for this research include U-M's Lurie Nanofabrication Facility.

The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property, and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.

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not rated yet Nov 23, 2011
Some how this goes agianst human ethics and rights.... Where does it end? Why noy just create the nanao swarm and have them self assemble, use wind or ambient energy in com bands? Self assembleing micro UAV's designed like bugs... This has been around a while... Though science could not understand how to do the math for some incets flying... Graphine is light, nano sized, and low power. Great Dragonfly wings...

I am just thinking of the day I play games with a fly and get my EGO hurt... Like trying to swat a fly is not annoying enough!
not rated yet Nov 23, 2011
Some how this goes agianst human ethics and rights

Lucky for us that bugs aren't human then (and have neither ethics nor (human) rights).

But the choices for swarmbots are clear:

We either have to design a lightweight, rugged, small mobile platform with an integrated power source (hard) - which can be controlled using a deterministic program (easy)


We use a preexisting, biological platform (easy) and have to manipulate it in a way so it goes where we want to (hard).

For now the second approach seems more effective in reaching that goal quickly. Though I could well imagine that once the manufacturing of micromachines moves out of the prototype stages and becomes a mass market we'll see a reversal of this paradigm.
1 / 5 (1) Nov 27, 2011
This is Fn cruel, leave the poor bug alone!
1 / 5 (8) Jan 07, 2012
Watch 'Minority Report' to see the SciFi variant of these insects in action searching for a fugitive in a building. It identifies the fugitive via retinal scan. Luckily, the main character of the movie had his own eyes yanked out and replaced with donor eyes and the mean little buggers left him alone.

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