Space & Innovation

Cyborg Beetles Could Replace Drones

For the first time, researchers control a beetle's walking gait, length and speed.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Animals got it going on. They fly better than humans, swim better, run faster, and hop higher. So it's no surprise that scientists are building robots modeled after creatures from the animal kingdom. Here are 10 of our favorites. Meet Spot, a four-legged robotic dog that can run over terrain, climb stairs and can handle a kick to the ribs without a flinch. Google-owned Boston Dynamics’ robot uses an electrical/hydraulic system and is designed for both indoor and outdoor operation.

BionicKangaroo is a robot developed by automation company Festo to technologically reproduce the unique way that a kangaroo moves. Just like a kangaroo, the robot recovers energy when jumping, stores it and efficiently uses it for the next jump.

A turtle-shaped robot named Beachbot, created by Disney Research labs, uses a retractable rake and onboard sensors to etch elaborate lines and designs in the sand.

The Great Elephant robot, which makes the French city of Nantes its home, is made from 45 tons of reclaimed wood and steel. The mechanical elephant can carry up to 49 passengers at a time on a 45-minute walk.

The Atrias robot is modeled after birds, which are arguably the fastest and most agile two-legged runners in the world. The robot, developed by researchers at the Oregon State University’s Dynamic Robotics Laboratory, has impeccable balance and can withstand kicks, punches and even a barrage of dodge balls.

The ACM-R5H robot, developed by Japan-based HiBot, is intended for inspection and search operations in underwater environments. In the front unit, a wireless camera is mounted to capture images.

German robotics company Festo is known for its animal-inspired robots. One of their latest creations is BionicAnt, a colony of small robots that work together to accomplish tasks, similar to how real insect societies work together toward a common goal.

The Navy recently deployed a robotic shark called the GhostSwimmer unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), which is five feet long and 100 pounds. It is based on biomimetic design principles and can be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, as well as hull inspections of friendly ships.

Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah robot is capable of running faster than any human, with speeds reaching 28.3 mph. It also has an articulated back that flexes back and forth on each step, mimicking the movement of a cheetah.

The T8, by Robugtix, is made with high-resolution 3D-printed parts, and is modeled after the movements of a spider. It has 26 different motors, with three in each leg and two in the abdomen.