Remote-controlled cyborg moth ‘biobots’ to monitor emergency-response operations

Also a great spy device
August 21, 2014

Measuring moth’s muscle signals at it attempts to fly toward the LEDs (credit: Alper Bozkurt)

North Carolina State University researchers have developed methods for electronically manipulating the flight muscles of moths and for monitoring the electrical signals that moths use to control those muscles. The goal: remotely-controlled moths, or “biobots,” for use in emergency response, such as search and rescue operations.

“The idea would be to attach sensors to moths … to create a flexible, aerial sensor network that can identify survivors or public health hazards in the wake of a disaster,” said Alper Bozkurt, PhD, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-author of a JOVE paper on the work.

Bozkurt, with Amit Lal, PhD, of Cornell University, previously developed a method for attaching electrodes to a moth during its pupal stage, when the caterpillar is in a cocoon undergoing metamorphosis. Now, Bozkurt’s research team wants to find out precisely how a moth coordinates its muscles during flight.

iBionics Lab | A short summary of our JOVE article “Early Metamorphic Insertion Technology for Insect Flight Behavior Monitoring”.

So they attach electrodes to the muscle groups responsible for a moth’s flight. The electrodes monitor electromyographic (EMG) signals from moth muscle movements generated when the moth attempts to fly toward the LED lights. To give the moth freedom to turn left and right, the entire platform levitates, suspended in mid-air by electromagnets.

“By watching how the moth uses its wings to steer while in flight, and matching those movements with their corresponding electromyographic signals, we’re getting a much better understanding of how moths maneuver through the air,” Bozkurt says.

“We’re optimistic that this information will help us develop technologies to remotely control the movements of moths in flight,” Bozkurt says. “Next steps include developing an automated system to explore and fine-tune parameters for controlling moth flight, further miniaturizing the technology, and testing the technology in free-flying moths.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation. The researchers also used transmitters and receivers developed by Triangle Biosystems International.

Abstract of Journal of Visualized Experiments paper

Early Metamorphosis Insertion Technology (EMIT) is a novel methodology for integrating microfabricated neuromuscular recording and actuation platforms on insects during their metamorphic development. Here, the implants are fused within the structure and function of the neuromuscular system as a result of metamorphic tissue remaking. The implants emerge with the insect where the development of tissue around the electronics during pupal development results in a bioelectrically and biomechanically enhanced tissue interface. This relatively more reliable and stable interface would be beneficial for many researchers exploring the neural basis of the insect locomotion with alleviated traumatic effects caused during adult stage insertions. In this article, we implant our electrodes into the indirect flight muscles of Manduca sexta. Located in the dorsal-thorax, these main flight powering dorsoventral and dorsolongitudinal muscles actuate the wings and supply the mechanical power for up and down strokes. Relative contraction of these two muscle groups has been under investigation to explore how the yaw maneuver is neurophysiologically coordinated. To characterize the flight dynamics, insects are often tethered with wires and their flight is recorded with digital cameras. We also developed a novel way to tether Manduca sexta on a magnetically levitating frame where the insect is connected to a commercially available wireless neural amplifier. This set up can be used to limit the degree of freedom to yawing “only” while transmitting the related electromyography signals from dorsoventral and dorsolongitudinal muscle groups.