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ISSUE 149 - December 2010
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Is A Cyborg Beatle Still A UAV?

By David Rose, Contributing Editor
San Diego, California

Hi-Mems - What?

Back in December of 2008 (issue 47) we spoke of pilotless aircraft in general. We wondered why, given images of science fiction pilot Col. Wilma Deering (Erin Gray from the TV series Buck Rogers), they're so intent on ridding the sky of pilots.

And regular readers of these columns know we have also touched on UAV's a time or two (Issue 48). But it's been two years and although much work has been accomplished in both fields; perhaps more intense have been the efforts to develop micro UAVs.

Enter HI-MEMS, or The Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems. That's right; hybrid insects fitted with electrronically operated mechanical systems.

Basically this is DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). They're an agency of the U. S. Department of Defense located in the Arlington, Virginia and responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military. Annual budget, $3.2 billion (

The HI-MEMS program is developing machine-insect interfaces. They're placing mechanical systems into insects during the earliest stages of metamorphosis. Tissue development occurs late in metamorphosis and tissue growth around these inserted mechanical systems heals forming stable tissue-machine interfaces. The mechanical systems inside the insects are to be controlled by GPS, radio, optical, or ultrasonic signals from remote control units. Direct electrical muscle excitation, electrical stimulation of neurons, electromechanical stimulation of insect sensory cells, as well as optical cues are used to control the insects movements. Little insect cyborgs. Little spies. Little Terminators.

HI-MEMS is providing us with robotic micro UAV capabilities at incredibly low cost. No billion dollar programs developing reliable structural and mechanical systems. No years of experimentation developing micro flight vehicles. Nature took care of all that eons ago. All the required electro mechanical components are simply inserted within a little cyborg insect's body. Done. The program hasn't been without its problems of course, one frustration being that the modified bugs never survived long enough to be useful.

But more recently, insects with modified body structures and embedded micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) have survived to adulthood. Work continues developing inexpensive micro air vehicles suitable for a variety of airborne missions. Imagine what the little buggers are doing, fitted with audio and imaging sensors.

As extremely labor-intensive as MEMS insertion is, it obviously hasn't curtailed research in the field. A bewildering array of both cyborg and mechanical bugs have emerged in just the past two years. (MEMS) and Micro-Air Vehicles (MAV) research is proceeding at several research institutes including University of California, Berkeley.
Go to Google with 'Cyborg Insects'. You won't believe the intricacies of the mechanisms and how enormously the field has grown.

My money's on "They're watching and listening right now"
By David Rose

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