It’s like my grandma used to say: “Life is a grand adventure, and there are only three things worth worrying about — your family, your health and cyborg moth spies.”

New research out of North Carolina State University this week promises to accelerate the development of cybernetically modified “biobot” moths. The idea? To create remote control moth swarms that could be deployed as a flying sensor network for surveillance or disaster response.

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The concept has actually been around for quite a few years — since 2006, officially — in the form of a U.S. government sponsored program called HI-MEMS (Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems). The program is administered, rather predictably, by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The overall goal of the program is to create genuine cybernetic insects — a literal merging of biological and electronic bugs. Circuitry implanted into the moths allows for remote control of the insect, which may also be equipped with various kinds of monitors and transmitters. For example, sensors might include low-power video cameras and microphones, or gas sensors for bugs flying into certain disaster scenarios.

The new research out of N.C. State, published in the online Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE), proposes a new method for attaching electrodes to a moth during its pupal stage, in the cocoon. As the caterpillar is undergoing metamorphosis into the winged adult stage, the sensors embed themselves in such a way that researchers can directly monitor the electrical signals in muscle groups the moth uses during flight.

“We’re optimistic that this information will help us develop technologies to remotely control the movements of moths in flight,” writes paper co-author Dr. Alper Bozkurt, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at N.C. State, on the university project page. “That’s essential to the overarching goal of creating biobots that can be part of a cyberphysical sensor network.”

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To test the new technique, the researchers created wireless platform — pictured above — in which the cybernetic moth is tethered to a lightweight platform that is itself suspended in mid-air by electromagnets. It’s a little hard to describe. Check out this video at to get a sense of the weirdness.

I assume the whirring sound you hear in the video is my grandma spinning in her grave, but it’s hard to tell for sure.


Credit: Alper Bozkurt, N.C. State