Cyborg Insect Comm System Planned By DARPA

DARPA's HI-MEMS 'cyborg insects' are now being designed to communicate with each other by modulating their usual calls.


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

Following close on the success of researchers in actually growing electronic control circuits in living insects (see HI-MEMS: Control Circuits Embedded In Pupal Stage Successfully), DARPA is now looking for additional functionality.

Insects will be equipped with embedded MEMS transceivers that pick up modulated calling sounds from nearby insects. Once the information in a call is extracted by the transceiver, the information code is applied to an electromechanical device on board the insect that modulates the insect calls, thereby retransmitting the information to another insect, and so on.

Science fiction and fantasy readers, alone among other human beings, are unfazed by this news. For example, we've seen (and read) about Gandalf talking with a moth in its own language, and then sending it as a message.


(Gandalf talks to moth in LOTR)

I'm surprised DARPA hasn't requested this as a feature; why shouldn't soldiers be able to talk directly into this network?

Fans of Dune of course recall the distrans, a technology that allows the user to imprint a message on the normal cry of a bat, which could then be interpreted by the person who receives the bat.

The whole idea of embedding control circuits in a living insect was inspired by the 1990 sf novel Sparrowhawk by Thomas A. Easton; read the full story in HI-MEMS: Cyborg Beetle Microsystem.

Finally, as far as I know, the earliest person to describe the idea of a controlled insect delivering a message was Philip K. Dick in his 1966 novel The Simulacra; see the entry for the commercial fly.

Update: Also, don't miss the related story Obama Destroys HI-MEMS Prototype (thanks, Yossi!) End update.

From Wired via our friends at Frolix-8.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/19/2009)

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