The next frontier for automation is the cyborg: a robot-living creature hybrid. The science fiction versions of these beings tend to be androids or human beings with implanted chips in their brains. But cyborgs already exist in less elegant forms.

For example, there are remote controlled cyborg insects from the DARPA HI-MEMS project.

Unpacking the acronyms

DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. We’ve written before about their robotics competitions. HI-MEMS is the Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical System.

Researchers implant computer chips into caterpillars. As they undergo metamorphosis, the hardware grows into the butterfly or moth. This allows them to avoid most of the problems that come from trying to implant remote-controlled chips into adult insects. After a couple of years, researchers at a university in Georgia were able to keep their cyborgs alive to adulthood.

What’s the point?

The handlers use remote controls to aim the insects where they want them to go. They can be outfitted with sensors, researchers figure, allowing the insects to sniff out explosives or to record sensitive conversations. They look like innocent little bugs, but these cyborgs could actually do some serious discreet information gathering.

Phase IV of the plan, according to the request for proposals DARPA sent out in 2006, would be “the eventual breeding and cultivation of insect battalions.”

The ick factor

“Insect battalions” sounds a bit creepy, but they would be on our side. What about the practice of taking over the body of a living creature? Using dead spiders as containers for robot grippers was a little bit shocking, but using live animals as containers for robots might cross a line.

Observers of similar studies in Singapore reported that they could see the insects trying to resist the programming in their chips. This might have been fanciful projection, but we don’t know insect emotional lives well enough to say that for sure.

If we’re okay with cyborgs, what about cyborgs? Would we accept a similar use for cats? Where does it begin to be too much?


It’s an interesting question. Meanwhile, if you need service or support for Indramat drive and control systems, call us for immediate assistance.

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