Evolution Articles: Cyborg Beetles

So now scientists are actually creating the cyborg beetles that we've seen in Get Smart and other futuristic movies. They have produced both completely synthetic fliers and cyborgs, so that living beetles can be controlled wirelessly.

Numerous articles have come out on synthetic, though you can learn just about all you need to know from this Technology Review article on cyborg beetles, a Daily Mail article, and this short explanation of synthetic flight mechanics.

I'll give you a quick summation of all three and a video(!) of one flying.

Cyborg Beetles

The U.S. military has attached electrodes and a tiny radio receiver to the backs of several species of large beetles, allowing them to control their flight.

One scientist "questioned the ultimate military application of remotely controlled beetles." He explained that once you implanted a GPS transmitter (so you could know the location of the beetle) and a camera, the electronics would be too heavy for even the largest beetle to carry.

The Scientific American article on synthetic fliers suggests this isn't true, however. The "Delfly Micro," a completely synthetic flying machine, weighs just 3 grams, and it can already carry a tiny camera. There is little doubt that cyborg beetles will eventually be able to carry the necessary electronics for spying.

The nice thing about cyborgs is that they are already maximized for efficiency by nature. They already can provide their own energy, unlike the problem that we experience with synthetic fliers ...

Completely Synthetic Fliers

The problem with synthetic fliers is energy. They have to carry their own battery, as we certainly cannot yet produce fliers that can stop and eat like a hummingbird or beetle can.

Thus, synthetic fliers are currently limited to a few minutes of flight and, thus, very limited distance.

The amazing part of these tiny machines is how the scientists make them fly. They have borrowed "technology" from nature, which we are learning is almost always the best thing to do. In this case, the methodology comes from the tiny house fly.

Apparently flies, unlike birds or bats, don't actually use their muscles to flap their wings. Instead, they have muscles that rapidly adjust the shape of their thorax, which sets their wings to buzzing like a tuning fork at speeds up to 200 beats per second. It is this incredible natural "technology" that has allowed scientists to produce tiny fliers like the 3-gram DelFly Micro. Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory has produce one even smaller, at less than a gram, but it can't carry a video camera ... yet.


A fly weighs only about one-tenth of a gram. Nature is still far better at micro-technology than we are.

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