Researchers at Nanyang Technical University and the University of California at Berkley wanted to answer the question: how do you make a small drone that can fly all day? The problem is that a drone needs a battery or other energy source, but a big battery needs a big drone.
Their answer? Take a giant beetle and strap enough electronics onboard to deliver tiny shocks to direct the insect’s flight. The tiny shocks don’t take much power and once the beetle is on course, no further shock is necessary unless the human pilot needs to correct the direction. Recent work allows a similar controller to control each leg of the beetle, turning it into a more versatile flying or walking cyborg.
The beetles are about 3 inches across and can lift the control backpack and sensors. A small battery can keep a beetle-drone operating all day. The team hopes to eventually build the control backpack so that it operates on harvested energy and won’t require any batteries.
The backpack materials cost less than $8 and use mostly off-the-shelf components. Organic beeswax, which is harmless to the beetle’s carapace, secures the electronics to the insect. Six electrodes connect to the beetle’s optic lobes and flight muscles. Wireless signals influence the beetle to take off, turn, or even hover. The walking version uses eight pairs of electrodes to control the creature’s front legs. An eventual goal is to completely control all the legs.
We’ve covered plenty of cyborg modifications, but usually with humans. However, we have seen an earlier version of the robobeetle drone. If you’ve never seen a beetle on a breadboard, you really want to see the video, below.