Stories tagged cyborgs

Green June Beetles (before cyber-enhancement)
Green June Beetles (before cyber-enhancement)Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are commonly used in military operations. Micro air vehicles (MAVs) are a subcategory of UAVs that are currently in development and can be as small as 15 centimeters (~ 5.9 inches); their anticipated uses include search-and-rescue, surveillance, detection of explosives, and monitoring of hazardous environments.

Two researchers from the University of Michigan researchers had an idea: instead of building UAVs the size of an insect, why not use the insects themselves? Professor Khalil Najafi and doctoral student Erkan Aktakka engineered a piezoelectric generator that converted the kinetic energy from the wing movements of a Green June Beetle into electricity (45 µW per insect). Their research was recently published in the paper, "Energy scavenging from insect flight," which appeared in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.Cyborg Beetle: Through a device invented at the University of Michigan, an insect's wing movements can potentially generate enough electricity to power small devices such as a camera, microphone, or gas sensor.
Cyborg Beetle: Through a device invented at the University of Michigan, an insect's wing movements can potentially generate enough electricity to power small devices such as a camera, microphone, or gas sensor.Courtesy Erkan Aktakka

This research was funded by the Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

University News Release: Insect cyborgs may become first responders, search and monitor hazardous environs

Jul
09
2008

The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.
The scariest of robots: And how do I know there's a monkey brain inside? Look how angry it is.Courtesy litmuse
Oh, you’re probably the same way—how often do you find yourself thinking, “I wish monkeys were more terrifying. Sure, they’re all fanged little were-men, with hand-feet and clever brains, but there must be some way that they could be worse.”

Pretty often, huh?

And, when you watch the news, don’t you constantly find yourself musing, “Hmm. The future is looking a little too bright.”

Well, don’t worry, Buzzketeers. The future promises to be just as dark and bewildering as ever, and horrifying cyber-apes are part of it.

“Now, JGordon, it can’t be that bad.”

Hey! Don’t sound so disappointed; it is that bad. Skeptical? Check it out for yourself—Sciencemen and Techladies have trained two macaque monkeys to control huge robotic arms…using their monkey brains!

Macaques have shown their evil little faces on Science Buzz before (murderous enthusiasm and enthusiastic murder), and I don’t think a refresher on robots is at all necessary—because there’s no escaping them.

Robotic limbs are becoming kind of a big deal these days, but even the most advanced of them rely on nerves remaining in a partial limb, or another part of the body entirely; which muscles to activate for a certain function must be relearned, or an operation like gripping with a robotic hand can be linked to a movement like shrugging the shoulders. It’s tricky to do, and it pushes the brain’s flexibility, especially considering that the only feedback the limb gives might be a hot or poking sensation at the connection point (this in place of a real limb’s feedback, like the pressure, friction, or warmth one might feel through their hands or feet).

Wiring a prosthetic (or any robotic device) directly into the brain—as was the case with these monkeys and their robot arms—overcomes some of the problems with existing prosthetic technology, while adding some new challenges.

With electrodes implanted right into the brain, relearning limb function can come much more quickly and naturally (awful little monkeys can do it, after all). A little too quickly, actually—a monkey at Duke University was similarly wired up this winter to make a robot in Japan walk, and the robotic body actually received the signals to walk before the monkey’s actual body did. Limbs wired the same way could be too fast or powerful for the brain to initially cope with. You might, say, run into a wall before your brain has time to create another route for your robo-legs; the speed of the limb action would be faster than the speed of thought.

However, if the prosthetics operated with a “closed neural loop,” that is to say if they could be made to provide natural feedback to the brain (like heat, pressure, strain, etc), scientists think that the brain could adapt much more quickly, and could even learn whole new pathways of motion. So a person wired up in the right way might be able to control a plane, or a nanosized robot directly with their mind. And it wouldn’t be something where you would think about walking forward and the plane would fly forward—you would learn the plane’s movements of flying, feel the flying, and control it as if you were the plane. That sort of things is still a long way off, and unless new technology is invented to sense and input to the brain in another way, it would require having a bunch of electrodes stuck through your skull and into your neurons.

This, of course, is all scientific blah be de blah, and if distracts from the real issue behind the story: cyborg monkeys. Do you know what the monkeys were actually taught to do with their metal limbs? Feed themselves. How horrible. Why not just teach them how to operate guns with their minds, or remove human brains through our nasal passageways?

In time, that too will come to pass. Look forward to it.

Oct
29
2007

She's safe, but for how long?: As you read this, government agencies are developing mind-invasion technology that not even aluminum foil can stop.  (photo courtesy of jspaw on flickr.com)
She's safe, but for how long?: As you read this, government agencies are developing mind-invasion technology that not even aluminum foil can stop. (photo courtesy of jspaw on flickr.com)
The Washington Post has given me something new to try not to think about during every waking hour in a recent article on robotic insects and their potential uses as spies.

At recent political events and rallies in New York and Washington there have been several suspiciously similar sightings reported of large, robot-like insects hovering just above the participants, sparking paranoia that the Department of Homeland Security might be using high-tech surveillance tools to spy on American citizens.

That last paragraph was a very long sentence, with at least one extended example of alliteration.

It has also been argued that these are, in fact, sightings of dragonflies. And, as strong as my inherent distrust of governments and insects is, when you compare the number of tiny government robots out there to the number of actual insects, this second theory seems pretty likely. Nonetheless, the Post article offers a pretty interesting look at some of the developing “robobug” technologies out there.

The Defense Department documents at least 100 models of flying robots in use today, ranging in size from something like a small plane to a songbird. The conventional rules of robotics, however, don’t work very well on a smaller scale, so making a robot as tiny as an insect is much more complicated. The CIA developed a four-winged dragonfly-like device as early as the 70s, which flew under the power of a tiny gas engine, but was abandoned due to its inability to cope with crosswinds. Several universities have since created palm-sized fliers, and a team at Harvard got a tiny fly-like robot airborne in July, its tiny, laser-cut wings flapping at 120 beats per second. It weighed only 65 milligrams, but it couldn’t be piloted, and was tethered by a power-supply cord.

Other researchers, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, have directed their efforts towards creating cyborg bugs, inserting microchips into the pupae of moths. The thought is that the nerves of the moths could grow into the chips, and that they could then be controlled and fitted with a tiny camera (or whatever). DARPA also has a similar project with beetles, where the muscles of the insects would generate the energy needed to power the various instruments they could carry. At a symposium in August, a DARPA project manager said of the research, "You might recall that Gandalf the friendly wizard in the recent classic 'Lord of the Rings' used a moth to call in air support. This science fiction vision is within the realm of reality." Even assuming that the DARPA spokesman wasn’t referring to a giant magical eagle when he mentioned “air support,” this is a very funny statement.

There are even rumors that the CIA and other organizations have developed insect robots that exist in your brain and prevent you from being productive by forcing you to think about them constantly. These robots are manufactured and reproduced by your own imagination, and, reportedly, can only be dealt with by chemical abuse and other hobbies.