Motor moth: Scientists build insect-driven robot

Moths don't have to pass driver's license tests to take the wheel of a robotic vehicle designed by researchers to gather data on moth-scent-tracking activities.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read
Moth in robotic vehicle
A moth prepares for a relaxing drive. Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Moths, despite munching on wool sweaters, are pretty innocuous for the most part. Scientists from the University of Tokyo decided to up the ante and put some moths in command of their very own robot vehicle.

The male silkmoths didn't have to pass driver's ed first, they just had to use their natural instincts for tracking down the female moth's sex pheromone. That's right, male moths do pretty much the same thing male humans do when they get their first car: go cruising for girls.

The moths were able to steer by standing on a rotating ball, which, as you'll note from the video below, appears to move quite easily. Moving the ball directed the small two-wheeled robotic vehicle, which looks like a a collection of leftover plastic parts and electronics bits. They were placed in a small arena with the pheromone scent on the other end and let loose to track down its location.

While building two-wheeled robots for moths sounds like a fun hobby, the researchers had a serious purpose for the project. They gathered data on the silkmoth's tracking behaviors as they drove toward the smell of the pheromone.

The idea is to apply that tracking information to autonomous robots equipped with sensors used to locate smells and sources of environmental spills and leaks. That's a worthwhile goal, but it dashes my dream of a NASCAR-like moth racing league.

(Via Reddit)