Cyborg insects? Until yesterday I would have said it little more than a cinematic fantasy. Now a research team from the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research (CPR) in Japan seem to have made it all a reality.
According to a study published in Natures (I link it here for all details), Japanese scientists have designed a system to create remote-controlled cyborg cockroaches via a tiny wireless control module. It is a truly ambitious multidisciplinary project, requiring a wide range of knowledge, including electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and biology.
The method uses the energy of a rechargeable battery connected to a solar cell. 'The rechargeable cyborg bug wears an ultra-soft organic solar cell module that does not compromise its basic movement capabilities,' said the researchers.
The breakthrough in a solar cell
The key to the new system seems to be in the energy harvesting mechanism. The ultra-thin organic solar cell module mounted on these cockroaches, in fact, reaches a power of 17,2 mW. It is more than 50 times greater than what current energy harvesting devices can achieve on similar experiments involving insects.
"The solar module, placed on the back of the insect, is just 0,004 millimeters thick," he says Kenjiro Fukuda, senior researcher at RIKEN.
"Iron man" cockroaches on a mission for man
These "armored" cockroaches are meant for specific tasks: exploring dangerous places, monitoring the environment, participating in rescue operations. To be effective, however, operators must be able to monitor them for sufficient periods of time: what to do, given the relative life of a battery?
I ricercators they decided that the best answer was to equip them with a solar cell capable of guaranteeing a continuous charge of the battery. A good step forward in a long way: for some time several research laboratories have been studying how to develop and use "platoons" of remotely controlled insects. They are already used today "modified" flies for environmental monitoring: the possibility of being able to control them would dramatically increase their potential.
in 2021, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore implanted electrodes in special sensory organs on the side of cockroaches, which through a physical connection allowed them to "guide" them. The mechanism, still primitive, was comparable to that which allows to drive a horse: instead of the bridle, weak electric discharges. How do the boys say? Creepy?
in 2020 it was the turn of the locusts, with a redesigned olfactory system to reveal bombs or biological weapons.
In small steps (literally, given the paws of these young men) we get closer to "enlisting" even the insects.