In 2005, the military trained honeybees to sniff out land mines. Then, Darpa’s HI-MEMS program started trying to machinize insects instead. So far researchers have implanted micro-mechanical components into larval moths and created remote-controlled beetles. Those initial HI-MEMS efforts seemed designed for reconnaissance missions - this time, the Pentagon wants its modified bugs to detect and differentiate between chemical agents.
In separate deals, the Pentagon is also backing research into an insect-mounted device powered by fuel cells, for a more reliable energy source. “This solution offers several advantages over the existing electromechanical methods; 50-100X higher power density, power-generation independent of insect species, and power generation in absence of insect motion,” according to the contract award.
And to really bring the critters into the 21st century, the military wants to hook them up with their own wireless network - using chirps instead of Tweets. They’re funding two projects that would create “a mobile ad hoc network” for vocal insects like crickets and cicadas.
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.
The instant-insect message would then be transmitted to humans or computerized systems, which could decode the covert chirp.
Sure, swarms of teensy biochemical detectors would be valuable in war-zones. But fly-swatters take note: project proposals reference “civilian and defense applications,” so your bug-squashing habit might soon make you a threat to national security.
http://www.wired.com - http://current.com