bots IN BRIEF
When Castrol needed to test how well their lubricants performed on various motorcycles under different conditions, they needed a rider that
knew a thing or two about precision reproducibility and industrial lubricants.
Meet Flossie — Castrol’s testing robot — who is able to sit on a bike and do
everything that a human rider would do, except way better and indefinitely.
Just like a human, Flossie is able to learn and adapt to different clutches on
different bikes, but doesn’t actually go anywhere.
ATTACK OF THE HORNWORM
Here’s one more reason to beware of DARPA (not that you need any more). Cornell researchers implanted electronic circuit probes into tobacco
hornworms. Once they go through both the pupae and chrysalis stages, the moths
can be controlled with them. These insect cyborgs are part of DARPA HI-MEMS
(Hybrid Insect MEMS), with its goal being security applications. This may be a very
expensive method of surveillance if too many of them met up with fly swatters.
The hornworms pass from the pupae stage through to the chrysalis stage
to mature into moths whose muscles can be controlled with the implanted
electronics. Following the diagram, the pupal insertion state is shown in
insert "i;" the successful emergence of a microsystem-controlled insect is
shown in insert "ii;" and the microsystem platform is shown held with
tweezers. The x-ray image (A) shows the probes inserted into the
dorsoventral and dorsolongitudinal flight muscles. CT images (B) show
components of high absorbance indicating tissue growth around the probe.
The overall size of the circuit board is 8x7 mm, with a total weight of
about 500 mg. The capacity of the battery is 16 mAh, and weighs 240 mg.
A driving voltage of five volts causes the tobacco hornworm blade muscles
(two pairs) to move for flight and maneuvering.
DARPA HI-MEMS program director Amit Lal credits science fiction
writer Thomas Easton with the idea. Lal read Easton's 1990 novel
Sparrowhawk, in which animals enlarged by genetic engineering were outfitted
with implanted control systems. Dr. Easton — a professor of science at
Thomas College — sees a number of applications for HI-MEMS insects.
“Moths are extraordinarily sensitive to sex attractants, so instead of giving bank robbers money treated with dye, they
could use sex attractants instead. Then, a moth-based HI-MEMS could find the robber by following the scent." "[Also,] with
genetic engineering, Darpa could replace the sex attractant receptor on the moth antennae with receptors for other things,
like explosives, drugs, or toxins," said Easton.
In Easton's novel, hackers are able to gain control of genetically engineered animals by hacking the controller chips used in
their implanted control structures. Hope DARPA read the book.
(Tobacco hornworm with circuit and
electrode implanted in pupal stage.)
(Results of insertions done at different
stages of metamorphosis.)
20 SERVO 09.2009