Secret agent moth

Elsewhere on the robotics front, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) is making good progress towards its goal of turning insects into remote-controlled surveillance and monitoring instruments. Three years ago, Darpa launched its Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) project, with the intent, as described by IEEE Spectrum, of creating “moths or other insects that have electronic controls implanted inside them, allowing them to be controlled by a remote operator. The animal-machine hybrid will transmit data from mounted sensors, which might include low-grade video and microphones for surveillance or gas sensors for natural-disaster reconnaissance. To get to that end point, HI-MEMS is following three separate tracks: growing MEMS-insect hybrids, developing steering electronics for the insects, and finding ways to harvest energy from the them to power the cybernetics.”

Papers presented this month at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference described breakthroughs that promise to help the agency fulfill all three goals. One group of researchers, from the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, has succeeded in inserting “silicon neural interfaces for gas sensors … into insects during the pupal phase.” Another group, affiliated with MIT, has created a “low-power ultrawide-band radio” and “a digital baseband processor.” Both are tiny and light enough to be attached to a cybernetic moth. The group has also developed a “piezoelectric energy-harvesting system that scavenges power from vibrations” as a moth beats its wings. The system may be able to supply the power required by the camera and transmitter.

Now, where the hell did I stick that can of Raid?

One thought on “Secret agent moth

  1. Tom Lord

    Perhaps future generations will forget enough history to think that this is the etymology of the spook-related sense of “bugging someone”.

    This kind of tech is interesting but it has, well, bugs. For example, like a U2 going down in the USSR, when one of these things is captured you have a serious inability to repudiate. Or, for example, these wireless mesh nets seem inevitably easy and cheap to detect and possibly to hack.

    It’s hard to imagine the end-game for this kind of research, at least for security uses, unless they are thinking about a situation where repudiation doesn’t matter (because the police state is beyond challenge anyway) and detection and hacking are limited by not giving people access to the relevant equipment and knowledge.


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