Cyborg beetles to be the US military's latest weapon (w/ Video)

October 15, 2009 by Lin Edwards, weblog

'Cyborg beetle.' Image credit: UC Berkeley
( -- A team of scientists funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have implanted miniature neural and muscle stimulation systems into beetles to enable their flight to be remotely controlled.

Researchers Hirotaka Sato, Michel Maharbiz, and colleagues implanted a system of and stimulators, a microbattery, and a microcontroller with transceiver into . They were able to successfully control the beetles' take off, flight, and landing by stimulating the brain to work the wings. They controlled turns through stimulating the basilar muscles on one side or the other to make the wings on that side flap harder.

Three types of large beetles from Cameroon were used in the experiments, which were carried out at the University of California in Berkeley. The smallest, cotinis texana, is 2 cm long, while the largest is a massive 20 cm long (megasoma elephas). The third species was mecynorhina torquata, a 7 cm long beetle. The components of the system were implanted in the beetles when they were at the pupal stage.

According to Professor Noel Sharkey, an international expert on and robotics from Sheffield University in the UK, there have been attempts in the past to control insects such as cockroaches, but this is the first time the flight of insects has been controlled remotely.

The ultimate military application of remotely controlled beetles is puzzling, Professor Sharkey said, since you would need to also implant a GPS transmitter/receiver to pinpoint the beetle's location, and probably a camera too, but this would be too heavy for even the largest beetle. Potential use of the system as a means of carrying a payload of biological or chemical weapons would be completely illegal.

The Berkeley researchers suggested the "cyborg" beetles -- part beetle, part machine -- could serve as models for micro air vehicles. DARPA, which funded the research, is also known to be developing a Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) that would weigh less than 10 g, and measure under 7.5 cm, and give the military the capability of carrying out indoor and outdoor operations in urban warfare situations.

'Cyborg beetle.' Image credit: UC Berkeley

Sato and colleagues also said the beetles could serve as couriers to inaccessible locations. The Berkeley team is also experimenting on dragonflies, flies and moths because of their "unmatched flight capabilities".

More information: Sato H, Berry CW, Peeri Y, Baghoomian E, Casey BE, Lavella G, VandenBrooks JM, Harrison JF and Maharbiz MM (2009) Remote radio control of insect flight. Front. Integr. Neurosci. 3:24. doi:10.3389/neuro.07.024.2009

© 2009

Explore further: North Carolina wine crops face beetlemania

Related Stories

Asian lady beetles invade homes

October 30, 2006

U.S. scientists say this is the time of year Asian lady beetles begin invading homes but there are methods that can help protect homes from infestation.

Armed beetles find a mate, whatever their size

March 27, 2008

One species of armed beetle is proving that size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to finding a mate. The creature’s ‘pulling techniques’ will be revealed in the April edition of the Royal Entomological Society’s ...

Guam rhino beetles got rhythm

April 14, 2009

In May 2008 the island of Guam became a living laboratory for scientists as they attached acoustic equipment to coconut trees in order to listen for rhinoceros beetles. A grant from USDA IPM allowed Richard Mankin, a recognized ...

Recommended for you

Team breaks world record for fast, accurate AI training

November 7, 2018

Researchers at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) have partnered with a team from Tencent Machine Learning to create a new technique for training artificial intelligence (AI) machines faster than ever before while maintaining ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4.3 / 5 (8) Oct 15, 2009
Scary somehow. I wonder when the US will start implanting their soldiers (or the general populace) with stuff like this.
3.4 / 5 (7) Oct 15, 2009
This seems limited in usefulness, but nevertheless is still pretty terrifying.

@antialias: I wouldn't worry about the government implanting anything like this in you any time soon. At most you would get a strong urge to turn in circles every now and then. Plus you'd probably notice the whole "invasive surgery" and "circuit board sticking out of your face" part.

Potential use of the system as a means of carrying a payload of biological or chemical weapons would be completely illegal.

Reminds me of when they said torture and waterboarding was illegal, but did it anyway.
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 15, 2009
Me too. Limited use? Everything is getting smaller at an accelerating pace these days. I wouldn't be surprised if we had a camera and GPS shrunk onto a light and small chip soon. Or use the camera with visual cues (lasers of different colors) to fix position.
4 / 5 (7) Oct 15, 2009
I think its not right for those beetles. As have been said, we can be next. Soldiers which don't question orders, controled at a distance. And danman - as you can wake up tomorrow with an organ missing - which happens all the time in organ trafficking - you can wake up tomorrow with a chip in your head. You wont even notice it...
2.5 / 5 (4) Oct 15, 2009
Would make for a fun pet
Oct 15, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Oct 15, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Oct 15, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 15, 2009
I can't believe how unethical this is.
Watch the first video, and try to imagine that is yourself. It is terrible. Make robotic beetles, cut out the middleman. And no harm is done.
4 / 5 (4) Oct 15, 2009
Right, one beetle would carry the GPS, another the camera, while the rest of the swarm carried the contaminant. A nice, compact army... intriguing.
3.3 / 5 (4) Oct 15, 2009
When can we have epic mind control wars where we can hack the other armys troops.
4 / 5 (4) Oct 15, 2009
I wonder if I could hook my girlfriend up like that. Hmmmmmm....
4.7 / 5 (6) Oct 15, 2009
They can miniaturize GPS and put it into them. If you took the GPS integrated circuit out of the plastic "can" you'd get something like a sliver of paper that can be pasted to a beetle's back.
Microscopic sized TV cameras are being developed also. They can be wrapped in flexible solar cells
to recharge.
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 15, 2009
Sci fi told us these were coming. It won't be long until mini-spy robot bugs have you tube worthy videos of famous people doing private things. Paparazzi bugs!
4 / 5 (4) Oct 16, 2009
Remember the remote controlled cockroach in the Fifth Element? It had a camera and mic strapped to it.
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 16, 2009
where can I get one of these rigs for controlling my minions?
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 16, 2009
This is something our world is screaming for. How have we done so long as a civilization without this?

It is crude, useless, mindless and indicative of an infantile culture. No less than sick. Ethics don't come into it.
not rated yet Oct 16, 2009
The evolution hase no limits these days. Many ethical questions are rising. For the devoloping of robots is waiting the same destiny. How far must we go in devoloping smart machines or manupilating animals with electronics???
2.5 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2009
Well they are mapping our minds right now and tunnelin nano bots can easily be a grain of sand in a sandwich. I would voluteer if they gave me control of my daily routine so I would excercise more :-D. Besides I would also want the memory upgrades and cognitive enhancements for scientific research. If I had the library of congress in my head I bet I could invent just a bout anything and everything. I have a few very good ideas now. My problem is that I am business illiterate.
1.7 / 5 (6) Oct 17, 2009
This might be where this scripture applies:Re 9:3 And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
Re 9:4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.
Re 9:5 And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.
Re 9:6 And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
Re 9:7 And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.
Re 9:8 And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
Re 9:9 And they had breastplates, as i
1 / 5 (1) Oct 17, 2009
It is elegant, sophisticated, inspired, useful, and indicative of a pragmatic, maturing culture. Sick is a moral judgment- you know, good or bad? Right or wrong? This is both brilliant and inevitable. To let someone else do it first would be... bad, wrong. It's a bug goddamit.

And we are merely the bug that will destroy all other bugs.

It is crude, useless, mindless and indicative of an infantile culture. No less than sick. Ethics don't come into it.

Second that movement.
not rated yet Oct 17, 2009
I am in no conceivable way a 'human-hater', and it is not even so much that I 'love animals'. I merely think that human knowledge is paltry, and there is a vast amount of knowledge that we can't comprehend, especially concerning animals. What gives us the right to lord over them? We 'think' we are above nature, when realistically we are part of nature itself.
not rated yet Oct 17, 2009
This would be a best selling toy. Build your own remote controlled beetle!
not rated yet Oct 18, 2009
It's time to reinvent the bug-swatter.
not rated yet Oct 18, 2009
"Potential use of the system as a means of carrying a payload of biological or chemical weapons would be completely illegal."

Yeah, cause our government is ALL about following it's own rules.
not rated yet Oct 19, 2009
This would be a best selling toy. Build your own remote controlled beetle!

Beetle not included. I can just picture pranksters with hordes of remote controlled tarantuals having a blast on Halloween.
3 / 5 (2) Oct 19, 2009
At the end of WWII, it was said that for each year of 'civilian' science that passed by..that the US government's (what then become the 'black ops') secretive and controlled military technological skunkworks was ahead of said civilian works by a rate of 50 years. This speed of advancement in black ops - per 'regular' year the point.

Recently, this 'speed differential' of black ops technological advancement was knocked back to 44 years per 'normal' year.

This means that the sort of technology seen here with this beetle in 'public' civilian based science is likely 25-30 years (civilian/public years) behind the level of sophistication of neurological work in buried and hidden advanced technology.
not rated yet Oct 19, 2009
"I've .. seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack beetles on fire off the shoulder of Orion..."

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.