These giant cyborg beetles can be controlled remotely, and could one day replace drones

cyborg beetles uc berkely flower beetle
If you live in fear of a robot apocalypse, the existence of cybernetic insects probably won’t help you sleep at night. But a team of engineers behind giant beetle cyborgs have high hopes for their little Terminators. In a paper published last week in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Nanyang Technical University in Singapore detail their ability to “hack” the limbs of insects and control their movements from afar. The scientists tout these critter-computer hybrids as perhaps more practical alternatives to man-made robots.

According to the study, giant flower beetles (Mecynorrhina torquoata) can be equipped with microchip backpacks that connect to electrodes plugged into their leg muscles. With subtle impulses, these electrodes allow researchers to manipulate the insects’ movements. Despite effectively acting as high-tech puppets, the bugs are still alive – able to freely roam outside of their backpack’s signal. We can’t say the beetles aren’t harmed in the process, but they do stay alive once the electrodes are removed.

To hack the beetles’ bodies, researchers first studied how the bugs moved. After analyzing speed, gait, and length of step, the researchers inserted electrodes under the bugs’ exoskeletons and examined how different impulses affected the way they walked. By fine tuning these impulses, scientists successfully managed to manipulate the beetles’ movement in fine detail.

It’s a pretty amazing feat, but truth be told, remote-controlled insects aren’t an entirely new invention. The RoboRoach lets DIY insectophiles control cockroaches from their smartphones. Berkeley scientists have flown rhinoceros beetles around like RC helicopters. But researchers Feng Cao, Hirotaka Sato, et al. claim their work demonstrates the first time an insect’s movements have been comprehensively controlled, responding to specific signals to speed up, slow down, take longer strides, shorter strides, and even change their gait.

Researchers believe their insect-computer hybrids have many advantages over man-made robots. For one, they call insects “Nature’s ready-made robot platforms,” with almost no assembly required. Insect-computer hybrids also have a fraction of the power consumption rate as man-made miniature robots, and don’t require the complex control algorithms needed to manipulate mechanical machines.

If these researchers have their way, cyborg insects may one day replace more conventional drones in tasks such as spying and surveillance. Either way, their work has revealed an interesting path for scientists to hack the bodies of beetles — and maybe even human beings.

Emerging Tech

Google’s radar-sensing tech could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Take a trip to a new virtual world with one of these awesome HTC Vive games

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.
Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.
Emerging Tech

Tiny animals discovered in Antarctic lake deep beneath the ice

Scientists have made a surprising discovery in Antarctica: the carcasses of tiny animals including crustaceans and a tardigrade were found in a lake that sits deep beneath over half a mile of Antarctic ice.
Emerging Tech

How long is a day on Saturn? Scientists finally have an answer

The length of Saturn's day has always been a challenge to calculate because of the planet's non-solid surface and magnetic field. But now scientists have tracked vibrations in the rings to pin down a final answer.
Emerging Tech

Tiny microbots fold like origami to travel through the human body

Tiny robots modeled after bacteria could be used to deliver drugs to hard to reach areas of the human body. Scientists have developed elastic microbots that can change their shape depending on their environment.
Emerging Tech

Dinosaurs never stood a chance after asteroid impacts doubled 290M years ago

The number of asteroids pummeling Earth jumped dramatically around 290 million years ago. By looking at Moon craters, scientists discovered that d the number of asteroid impacts on both Earth and the Moon increased by two to three times.