Cyborg moths to the rescue!

Scientists are developing a method of controlling the flight muscles of moths wirelessly, instantly introducing a new term to the vocabulary of technophobes: the mothpocalypse.

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The electrode inserted during the larval stage (top) and the full-grown moth. Alper Bozkurt

This week in news that's simultaneously terrifying and awesome, researchers have developed methods that could allow the flight muscles of live moths to be controlled remotely.

Scientists have attached electrodes to muscle groups in the moths that allow them to monitor the electric signals the moths use to control their muscles in flight. The wired moth is then connected to a wireless platform that collects the moth flight muscle data.

"We're optimistic that this information will help us develop technologies to remotely control the movements of moths in flight," Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State who co-authored a paper on the work, says in a release.

Bozkurt says the team envisions attaching sensors to moths to create a flying network that could be deployed in the wake of a disaster.

"In the big picture, we want to know whether we can control the movement of moths for use in applications such as search and rescue operations," Bozkurt says.

Yes, but in the even bigger picture, we've all seen "The Matrix," and the technique used here of attaching electrodes when the moth is still a caterpillar in a cocoon feels a little too much like a scene from a prequel that the Wachowski brothers never got around to making.

However, if we can agree that this method of turning living creatures into "biobots" -- that's the term the researchers actually use, not mine -- remains restricted to the relatively un-creepy Lepidoptera order of insects, the potential uses are pretty fascinating. Ultimately, it's probably also less spooky to create a living moth drone than a mechanical flying moth -- I imagine it's harder to get live moths to tote tiny syringes around to knock out your frenemies, at least.

To be clear, Bozkurt says there's still plenty of work to be done before any winged creatures can be transformed into living drones or on-demand sensors.

"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."

So if you see a moth with an electrode sticking out of its back in your neighborhood and there hasn't just been a natural disaster, surely it's just part of a field test. Unless of course the little insect in question isn't being piloted by a friendly researcher from North Carolina, but rather by Agent Smith.

Watch more about the research in the video below and also be sure to check out the biobot moth discussion over at CNET's Tomorrow Daily.

 

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