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Cyborg beetles in action [video]

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In the December 2010 issue of Scientific American University of California, Berkeley, scientists Michel Maharbiz and Hirotaka Sato describe how they combined off-the-shelf computer electronics with nanosurgical skill to create cyborg beetles that are part machine and part insect. During flight, the beetles respond to radio commands from the researchers.

In the series of clips below, the beetles respond to commands to start up and turn left or right. The beetle begins to fly when its optic lobes are stimulated. A right turn occurs when the muscles on the left side of the insect are stimulated. A left turn occurs when the muscles on the right side of the insect are stimulated. These tiny flyers—or more likely their successors—may one day save lives in wars and disasters.


Video courtesy of University of California, Berkeley


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  1. 1. promytius 7:35 am 11/17/2010

    Sorry, not very impressive in terms of control. A random video of beetles flying could have been substituted and I wouldn’t have noticed the difference. I saw little, if any, control. I think they were simply hurting the beetles and the beetles reacted. Also where were the baseline movements? Beetles flying and turning without "stimulation"; It struck me as mildly cruel, given that the results were so poor; for example, a turn left signal was given and the beetle landed – what’s that? I think our troops and disaster victims are better off with human assistance for the foreseeable future.

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  2. 2. tharriss 8:06 am 11/17/2010

    wow promytius, so I suppose if we don’t run before we walk, then the steps are useless?

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  3. 3. robert schmidt 9:45 am 11/17/2010

    @promytius, obviously you don’t understand the scientific process. Perhaps you should try to understand before sharing your ignorance.

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  4. 4. Christine Gorman 10:29 am 11/17/2010

    I chose this series of clips to show because they include the LED monitor showing when the stimulation occurred and the beetles were free-flying.
    There are 12 other videos available under the supplemental data tab in Sato’s 2009 Neuroscience paper:

    I agree with Robert. These are the first steps in what could be very useful technology.

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  5. 5. Christine Gorman 9:53 am 11/18/2010

    Hi Quinn,
    Sorry you had trouble following the explanation. Did you follow the link to the full article by Maharbiz and Sato? That should make it clearer.

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  6. 6. TurnerOsler 4:53 pm 12/5/2010

    They don’t yet have a camera on their chip, because it would add weight, I guess. But I wonder: could they just put in some more electrodes and eavesdrop on the output of the beetle’s optic nerves? The signal would provide a "beetle’s eye view" of the world, something that might be of interest in its own right.

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  7. 7. cheesedoff17 12:46 pm 12/19/2010

    This is very interesting. There are so many beetles out there. Not only will we be eating more as they are a great source of protein, but we will be able to harness them to do our bidding.

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