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Just over a year after researchers figured out how to control cockroaches with Microsoft Kinect, North Carolina State University researchers have created cyborg moths. They’ve essentially hacked the little fellas to insert some wires into their tissues to control their movements, bypassing their little moth brains. What’s the purpose of such a project, you might wonder. To amass and control an army of moth drones, of course.
Proof of this concept was demonstrated a few years ago by folks over at MIT who electrically controlled moths’ abdomens, prompting them to turn mid-flight. Naturally, all kinds of people and organizations were interested in the possibilities this opened up — I’m pretty sure DARPA’s been salivating at the idea of remote-controlled insect spies for years. The North Carolina State University improved upon this previous experiment by focusing more on the mechanics of the moths’ flight and how to control them without hindering their movement. The team figured that if they could insert their wiring — in this case, an electrode — into the moth while it was still in its cocoon, the moths’ tissues could grow with the implants. This is the same principle some human cyborgs have demonstrated when receiving implants that their skin and muscles pull into place.
Thus, the team was able to control the moths with magnets as soon as they broke out of their cocoons. They placed the moths in what resembles a light drum to make the moths believe they were actually flying and navigating. While magnets held the moth in place, the researchers studied the signals between the moth’s brain and wings. You can check out a video detailing their methodology and results.
In the future, a similar implant could be used not just to levitate the moth for study, but to control its flight, which would be a major boon for the realm of insect spies. They could even wear sensors to identify the presence of certain chemicals or gases. It will probably be some time, though, before moths can successfully deliver pizzas.