Remote-controlled beetles could work better as tiny drones than mechanical drones inspired by insects, reports Gizmodo.
So say a team of researchers from Nanyang Technological University and the University of California Berkeley, who are the first ever to control a beetle's walking gait, length and speed.
10 Animal-Like Robots That Slither, Hop, Run And Fly
To do that, the scientists first closely studied how beetles naturally walk. Next, they inserted tiny, hairlike electrodes into a beetle's legs and attached a microchip backpack to its carapace.
Next, they programmed the chip to send impulses to the electrodes to stimulate the legs in different patterns and recreate different walks.
Two different gaits that six-legged beetles exhibit in nature - tripod and galloping - were mimicked in the lab.
'Biobot' Moths Become Cyborgs In Cocoon
Tripod walking is when one leg moves out of phase with a pair, for example when the middle leg on one side moves out of phase with the front and hind legs on the opposite side.
Galloping is when legs of a pair move in-phase, for example when the bug's two front legs move at the same time.
The scientists admit that the gaits were not identical to what the bugs do in nature, because the lab bug was constrained for purposes of the experiment.
Cyborg Roaches Could Find Disaster Survivors
These hybrid robot-insects could be used instead of mechanical insects. In the research paper, the team writes:
...unlike man-made legged robots for which many tiny parts, sensors and actuators are manufactured, assembled and integrated, the insect–computer hybrid robots directly use living insects as Nature's ready-made robot platforms. The only necessary ‘assembly' or ‘operation' to create an insect–computer hybrid robot is to mount a miniature radio device and implant thin wire electrodes into appropriate neuromuscular sites on the insect for electrical stimulation to induce the desired motor actions and behaviors.
According to Gizmodo, the beetles were unharmed during the experiment and afterward lived out their full lifespan.