HI-MEMS: Control Circuits Embedded In Pupal Stage Successfully

Cornell University researchers have succeeded in implanting electronic circuit probes into tobacco hornworms as early pupae. The hornworms pass through the chrysalis stage to mature into moths whose muscles can be controlled with the implanted electronics.

(Tobacco hornworm with circuit and electrode implanted in pupal stage.)

The pupal insertion state is shown in insert "i" in the picture seen above. The successful emergence of a microsystem-controlled insect is shown in insert "ii;" the microsystem platform is shown held with tweezers. The X-ray image (A) shows the probes inserted into the dorsoventral and dorsolongitudinal flight muscles. CT images (B) show components of high absorbance indicating tissue growth around the probe.

(Results of insertions done at different stages of metamorphosis.)

The research also indicated the most favorable and least favorable times for insertion of control devices. The overall size of the circuit board is 8x7mm, with a total weight of about 500 mg. The capacity of the battery is 16 mAh, and weighs 240 mg.

A driving voltage of 5 volts causes the tobacco hornworm blade muscles (two pairs) to move for flight and maneuvering.

DARPA HI-MEMS program director Amit Lal credits science fiction writer Thomas Easton with the idea. Lal read Easton's 1990 novel Sparrowhawk, in which animals enlarged by genetic engineering were outfitted with implanted control systems.

Dr. Easton, a professor of science at Thomas College, sees a number of applications for HI-MEMS insects.

Moths are extraordinarily sensitive to sex attractants, so instead of giving bank robbers money treated with dye, they could use sex attractants instead. Then, a moth-based HI-MEMS could find the robber by following the scent."

"[Also,] with genetic engineering Darpa could replace the sex attractant receptor on the moth antennae with receptors for other things, like explosives, drugs or toxins," said Easton.

DARPA had better be careful with its insect army; in Easton's novel, hackers are able to gain control of genetically engineered animals by hacking the controller chips used in their implanted control structures.

Read more about Roachsters, full-size anthropod-based vehicles with embedded control structures from Easton's 1990 book Sparrowhawk.

If you are interested in one dark-side view of how this kind of invention could be used by corporations, see the madcap blurbflies from Jeff Noon's excellent 2000 novel Nymphomation.

Learn more about HI-MEMS (Hybrid Insect Micro-Electrico-Mechanical Systems) Sought By DARPA; additional research reviewed at HI-MEMS: Cyborg Beetle Microsystem. Via Robot Watch. See also this informative article Darpa hatches plan for insect cyborgs to fly reconnaissance.

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