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Could cyborg insects act as first responders?

DARPA-funded research looks at how to bug bugs and generate electricity from their movements and body heat.

Bugged: Researchers say cyborg beetles could be used in hazardous sites. Erkan Aktakka/University of Michigan

The next time you feel like swatting a bug, consider whether it might be packing military sensors that are gathering data about its surroundings. And maybe you, too.

Researchers at the University of Michigan are working on ways to generate power from insects' kinetic motion and body heat while bugging the bugs as well.

In a paper in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, Khalil Najafi and collaborators created piezoelectric generators that harvest small amounts of electricity from the movements of the green June beetle.

The power could be used to charge a bug-board battery for sensors that would relay information about its environment.

"Through energy scavenging, we could potentially power cameras, microphones and other sensors and communications equipment that an insect could carry aboard a tiny backpack," the university quoted Najafi as saying. "We could then send these 'bugged' bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go."

The research was funded by DARPA's Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) program, which aims to create cyborg bugs for military use.

In tethered flight trials, the beetles had a generator on each wing and could produce more than 45 microwatts of power. The researchers want to connect the generators directly into the flight muscles and increase the output.

The university, meanwhile, is seeking collaborators to commercialize the technology.

I'd say they should hook up with the people behind RoboRoach, seen undergoing surgery in the video below (warning: high gross-out factor).