UC Berkeley
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Beetles Wearing electronic Backpacks Remotely-Controlled to Perform Mid-Air Turns

There has been a lot of talk of late about drones that could be used to help people during natural or industrial disasters, some of these ideas have even involved cockroaches that can be remotely steered via an electronic backpack. It would seem researchers in the US and Singapore have taken this one step further, by turning giant flower beetles into “cybugs”.

The cyborg beetles concept sprang out of a project to better understand how beetles fly. An international collaboration involving scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and UC Berkeley, strapped a miniature radio transmitter and electronic backpack to the insects back and succeeded in controlling their mid-air movements. Six electrodes were attached to the beetle’s optic lobe and flight muscles and allowed the researchers to control which direction the free-flying beetles turned with some quite stunning results.

The six cm, 8 gram giant flower beetle was selected due to its ability to support heavy loads, and is able to carry the electronic backpack weighing a full one-sixth of its body weight, no mean feat. According to Dr. Hirotaka Sato at Nanyang, “We could easily add a small microphone and thermal sensors for applications in search-and-rescue missions. With this technology, we could safely explore areas not accessible before, such as the small nooks and crevices in a collapsed building.”