As computers decrease in size, many scientists are discovering their inner Victor Frankensteins by experimenting with electronically controlling one of nature's most abundant life forms: insects.
Researchers from the University of Singapore recently published a paper that revealed past versions of tech-enhance insects — like the Pentagon's cyborg beetle — were mere puppets on strings. Now, those scientists have designed a damned "insect–computer hybrid legged robot with user-adjustable speed, step length and walking gait."
Yes, that means creepy insects like the giant flower beetle (pictured above) are getting cybernetic enhancements
The researchers basically went further than merely wiring the beetle's buggy nervous system to simply stop and go; they gave anyone at the other end of controls attached to the unfortunate insect fine-grained control of its movements. Technically, you could make the little guy tap-dance given time, ample beetle lifespan and perhaps a small dose of old-fashioned cruelty.
TechCrunch was kind enough to break down the nearly indecipherable science-speak from the paper:
. . . The team first closely observed the muscles and tension patterns involved in various types of movement using motion capture and good old dissection, then wired up those muscles and stimulated them with pulse-width modulated signals generated on a nearby (but not on-beetle) microcontroller.
Only the front two legs were wired for the purposes of this experiment, which limited the types of locomotion available, but the researchers note that two-legged gaits do occur naturally in hexapod creatures.
The researchers claim they had great success in making their hapless charge move in pre-programmed ways, proving—in TechCrunch's words—"the viability of this technique in the creation of an 'insect-computer hybrid robot.'"
As unsettling as this research may seem, there are some very practical possible future applications for cybernetically-enhanced creepy-crawlies. As TechCrunch points out, there is practical research afoot to arm a squadron of cockroaches with microphones and GPS trackers then let them loose in disaster zones to seek out the voices and sounds of trapped humans.
Because that's totally what you want to see when you're trapped under earthquake rubble: an electronically-enhanced army of cockroaches scuttling through the chaos toward your face.