Because science is on an eternal quest to horrify mankind by merging impressive technology with really gross things, researchers at NC State are working towards creating cyborg moth biobots: Live moths whose flight muscles (and the electrical impulses behind them) can be controlled remotely via electronics.
While the researchers say the primary goal is to develop the technology for emergency response purposes, they have not explicitly said that “smacking loudly into your window at night,” or “getting squished on car headlights” aren’t also on the to-do list.
“In the big picture, we want to know whether we can control the movement of moths for use in applications such as search and rescue operations,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “The idea would be to attach sensors to moths in order to create a flexible, aerial sensor network that can identify survivors or public health hazards in the wake of a disaster.”
The research involves attaching electrodes to the moths while in the pupal stage, before it becomes an actual moth. Once it reaches adulthood, the electrodes provide feedback regarding how exactly a moth fires its flight muscles.
“By watching how the moth uses its wings to steer while in flight, and matching those movements with their corresponding electromyographic signals, we’re getting a much better understanding of how moths maneuver through the air,” Bozkurt says.
They have high hopes that these data will lead to a remote control systems for micro-scale flight, but there’s still work to be done.
“We now have a platform for collecting data about flight coordination,” Bozkurt says. “Next steps include developing an automated system to explore and fine-tune parameters for controlling moth flight, further miniaturizing the technology, and testing the technology in free-flying moths.”
Cyborg moths: Coming soon to a screen door near you.