Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Remote-Control Insects

Oh my god. Be afraid and awestruck of your government.

In a move that makes the science fiction fan in my giddy with delight, I read today about how scientists in Arizona have successfully created live, remote-control insects:

They inserted electronic circuit probes into early stage pupae of the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), and by the time the moth emerges as an adult, the flight muscles have grown around the probes. The researchers are then able to stimulate the muscles to make the moth fly and to control which way the moth goes!

They may even have tried controlling beetles (HERE).

The research was showcased at MEMS 2008, an international academic conference on Micro-Electrico-Mechanical Systems that took place from January 13-17 in Tucson, AZ.

Wow. The idea was inspired by the science fiction novel, Sparrowhawk, by Thomas Easton, wherein giant insects are outfitted with electronic control systems for a variety of purposes, including transportation of humans.

The scary part is that the research was funded by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. That's right, the folks who bring us all those wonderful James Bond-esque devices that spy on terrorists and ordinary civilians alike or outfit the most advanced military commandos, used by our friends at Homeland Security, the CIA, Navy Seals, and snarling vice presidents.

The head of the research project, Dr. Amit Lal, suggests that the remote-controlled moths are for sniffing out bank robbers or detecting chemical traces of drugs or explosives. But given that this is DARPA, I'm thinking of darker uses. Like little mobile spy platforms, outfitted with listening or imaging "backpacks." Big Brother's watching! Or how about making them into tiny, one-man assassins by strapping little bombs on them, or poison needles. Just activate their wings, point them in the right direction, crash-land onto your hapless victim, and BOOM!

Someone call the Orkin man!

So the next time you see a big insect fluttering around your room, take a second look. If you see a little backpack on it, tell our pals in the government "Hello" and give them a good look at the bottom of your shoe.


KimberlyDi said...

I came across your blog looking for information about the Lusi Mud Volcano.

You cover some interesting subjects. Truth is stranger than fiction. There was a remote controlled insect in the 5th Element that was squashed by a foot. Ironic that such incredible sophistication would be that vulnerable.

Angry Lab Rat said...

Oh yeah! I forgot about that movie reference, kimberlydi. Thanks for the reminder.

Here's another mindblower for you. Imagine setting loose a few hundred listening/imaging device-equiped insects into a building (like the CIA Headquarters, for instance), then coming back a week or so later to collect them (using bait, like pheromones for moths or peanut butter for roaches), then downloading the data from them all. Even if a few are caught and killed, most may escape and yield sensitive data.

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