The Pentagon's defense scientists want to create an army of
cyber-insects that can be remotely controlled to check out explosives
and send transmissions.
processing system - a precursor to the internet
Self Healing Minefield - the mines reconfigure themselves to
fill gaps when one or more are stepped on
Brain Interface Programme to wire soldiers directly into their
Mechanical Elephant to penetrate dense Vietnam War jungle.
Policy Analysis Market - online futures market where "traders"
wager on future terrorism and assassinations
Computer game, Tactical Iraqi, to teach troops how to decipher
Iraqi body language
ANIMALS IN WARFARE
Attach a bomb to a cat and drop it from a dive-bomber on
to Nazi ships. The cat, hating water, will "wrangle"
itself on to enemy ship's deck. In tests cats became
unconscious in mid-air
WWII: Attach incendiaries to bats. Induce hibernation
and drop them from planes. They wake up, fly into factories etc and blow up.
Failed to wake from hibernation and fell to death
Vietnam War: Dolphins trained to tear off diving gear
of Vietcong divers and drag them to interrogation, sources linked to the
programme say. Syringes later placed on dolphin flippers to inject carbon
dioxide into divers, who explode. US Navy has always denied using mammals to
Darpa believes scientists can take advantage of the evolution of insects, such as dragonflies and moths, in the pupa stage.
"Through each metamorphic stage, the insect body goes
through a renewal process that can heal wounds and reposition internal
organs around foreign objects," its proposal document reads.
The foreign objects it suggests to be implanted are
specific micro-systems - Mems - which, when the insect is fully
developed, could allow it to be remotely controlled or sense certain
chemicals, including those in explosives.
The invasive surgery could "enable assembly-line like fabrication of hybrid insect-Mems interfaces", Darpa says.
Darpa's previous experiments to get bees and wasps to detect the
smell of explosives foundered when their "instinctive behaviours for feeding and
mating... prevented them from performing reliably", it said.
Darpa was founded in 1958 to keep US military technology ahead of Cold War rivals.
Its website says it has around 240 personnel and a $2bn
(£1.1bn) budget. Supporters say much of its work has been successful,
but it has also drawn criticism for unusable "blue-sky" projects.
A former director said in 1975: "When we fail, we fail big."
Cyborg Moth Gets a New Radio
By Sally Adee
Published February 2009
Research reported this week advances the goal of
turning insects into unmanned aerial vehicles
Attempts by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency (DARPA) to create cybernetic insects
(hybrids of biological and electronic bugs) have yielded
ultralow-power radios to control the bugs’ flight and a
method of powering those circuits by harvesting energy,
according to research that will be reported this week at
International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC)
PHOTO: Alper Bozkurt, Boyce
CYBER-MOTH: Electrodes and a control chip
are inserted into a moth during its pupal
stage. When the moth emerges the electrodes
stimulate its muscles to control its flight.
PHOTO: Alper Bozkurt, Boyce
CONTROLLED FLIGHT: The moth can be made flap
its wings under computer control.
Two papers being presented at ISSCC reveal the latest
initiatives in the DARPA-sponsored Hybrid Insect
Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) project,
which is currently in its third year. The program’s goal
is the creation of moths or other insects that have
electronic controls implanted inside them, allowing them
to be controlled by a remote operator. The
animal-machine hybrid will transmit data from mounted
sensors, which might include low-grade video and
microphones for surveillance or gas sensors for
natural-disaster reconnaissance. To get to that end
point, HI-MEMS is following three separate tracks:
growing MEMS-insect hybrids, developing steering
electronics for the insects, and finding ways to harvest
energy from the them to power the cybernetics.
Researchers at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant
Research, in Ithaca, N.Y.—which is one of the
contractors on the HI-MEMS project—presented progress on
the first goal at the IEEE MEMS 2009 conference in Italy
two weeks ago, describing silicon neural interfaces for
gas sensors that were inserted into insects during the
pupal phase. At ISSCC, the HI-MEMS projects focused on
new chip technology for the second two goals:
Researchers led by DARPA contractor MIT will present a
low-power ultrawide-band radio, a digital baseband
processor, and a piezoelectric energy-harvesting system
that scavenges power from vibrations.
The HI-MEMS project was conceived in 2005 by program
manager Amit Lal, an electrical engineering professor on
leave from Cornell University while he coordinates the
four-year DARPA effort. MIT is one of three major
contractors, including the University of Michigan and
Boyce Thompson. The research also draws on the work of
entomologists, electrical engineers, and mechanical
engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, the
University of Arizona, and Washington University in St.
Louis, Mo. To be considered successful, the final HI-MEMS
cybernetic bug must fly 100 meters from a starting point
and then be steered into a controlled landing within 5
meters of a specified end point. On landing, the insect
must stay in place.
The electronic and MEMS components of the system must
consume little power and be absolutely featherweight.
After all, an average hawk moth weighs 2.5 grams; with
too much extra weight it would be unable to fly.
Anantha Chandrakasan, an electrical engineering
professor at MIT, is a coauthor on each of the ISSCC
papers. The first is an ultrawide-band receiver system
on chip, a radio that works at extremely low power over
a broad swath of spectrum. (Earlier research had created
the transmitter.) The device was specifically built for
the HI-MEMS project in order to steer the moth. To
control the moth’s flight direction, Chandrakasan and
MIT graduate student Denis Daly designed a small,
lightweight, low-power radio connected to a tungsten
4-electrode neurostimulator. When this radio picks up
the right commands, the device stimulates the nervous
tissue in the moth’s abdominal nerve cord. The
stimulation makes the moth’s abdomen move in a way that
alters the direction of its flight. The radio and
stimulator are powered by a hearing-aid battery.
The second chip is a low-power digital baseband
processor that can very quickly synchronize with
wireless signals. That solves a particular problem with
wireless communication. “When you send a piece of data
through a wireless link, the receiver takes some time to
lock to the transmitter,” Chandrakasan says. “Our new
algorithms can very quickly synchronize, which means
that you can turn on the radio, take the piece of data,
and then turn the radio back off very quickly. That
saves a lot of power.”
A third chip being presented at ISSCC, which
Chandrakasan says is unrelated to the radio chips and
not funded under HI-MEMS, could nevertheless be used to
meet the DARPA project’s goal of finding ways to
efficiently harvest energy from the moth. While a cyborg
insect would be fairly autonomous and self-fueling,
there would be no way to recharge its equipment payload
on missions. Batteries are heavy. So the researchers are
seeking a method by which the insect’s flight itself
generates the electrical energy the payload electronics
require. Harvesting ambient vibration energy through
piezoelectric means—in which energy is converted between
mechanical and electrical forms—could supply between 10
and several hundred microwatts of power.
The research presented at ISSCC addresses a common
problem with energy-harvesting circuits: The power
consumed by the harvesters’ control circuits reduces the
amount of usable electrical power. The solution, a
circuit called a bias-flip rectifier, improves the
power-extraction capability by “more than four times,”
according to the paper by Chandrakasan and graduate
student Yogesh K. Ramdass.
The HI-MEMS project is not the first attempt at
creating cyborg animals. The list is long, including
pigeons, beetles, cats, and bees. Perhaps the most
famous example is the cyborg rat. In 2004, John Chapin,
a professor at the State University of New York Health
Science Center, in Brooklyn, demonstrated Rescue Rats.
These were lab rats with neural implants that encouraged
them to steer through rubble piles with a camera and GPS
locator to find people. Using a radio remote control,
Chapin stimulated a part of the rats’ brains that
mimicked the sensation of being touched on the whiskers.
In response, the rats turned in the direction of the
sensation. When they turned, Chapin rewarded them with a
quick jolt of electricity in the pleasure center of
Jelle Atema, a biologist at Boston University and at
the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, was also funded
by DARPA in 2005 to research steering sharks with
similar neural implants. Atema says that while he
applauds the HI-MEMS project for its technical ambition
and engineering virtuosity, he is concerned about its
ultimate biological feasibility: Electronic control
would compete with natural brain processes. He cites
some limitations for insects, including a tendency for
moths to approach light sources (the proverbial flames)
and a powerful sex pheromone response that could
override attempts at remote electronic control.
“Pheromones are incredibly powerful,” he says.
In addition, modifying just one moth would be
prohibitively time-consuming and expensive, especially
in light of the life span of the animal, says Atema.
Even if HI-MEMS never produces a working cyborg moth,
Chandrakasan says that the usefulness of these devices
is not limited to the specific DARPA project. You can
repurpose the chips for assistive technologies and
implantable devices. In particular, he says, the
energy-harvesting system would be a promising technology
prosthetic arms, which have a similar problem with
weight and battery life.