Researchers at the University of Michigan are currently working on a line of cyborg insects that would use the energy generated from their own wing motion to power sensors installed in tiny insect backpacks. The researchers see the insects being used in future first responder situations where they would investigate hazardous environments that could potentially be dangerous for humans to enter into. These little flying insecto-robots could be the first ones to scope out future nuclear disasters, areas where chemical warfare has been deployed, or even to survey land masses after natural disasters like volcanic eruptions or tsunamis.
“Through energy scavenging, we could potentially power cameras, microphones and other sensors and communications equipment that an insect could carry aboard a tiny backpack,” said Professor Khalil Najafi. “We could then send these ‘bugged’ bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go.”
The University of Michigan researchers are looking into energy harvesting from wings and have published some of their findings in a paper titled, “Energy scavenging from insect flight,” in a recent edition of the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.
The research was funded by a grant from Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under grant No. N66001-07-1-2006. The mini-cyborgs could be sent into precarious situations outfitted with small cameras, microphones or gas sensors that are powered up each time they flap their wings.
One gaping hole in this robotic technology is how you get a tiny bug to fly exactly where you’d like it to. Apparently, the University of Michigan researchers with the help of DARPA are currently at work with insect handlers and insect mind-control techniques that would tell the tiny bugs exactly where they need to go.