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Scientists build robot that 'hears' through the ear of a dead locust

Researchers kept the zombie organ alive by feeding it and giving it oxygen.

The Ear-Bot listens through the ear of a dead locust. 
Tel Aviv University

Beetles wearing camera backpacks and moths driving tiny cars are the results of real insect experiments. A team of researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel has taken a different path and created a bio-hybrid robot that "hears" through the ear of a dead locust, a type of grasshopper.

The robot receives electrical signals through the ear. It's programmed to respond to sounds, so one clap triggers the robot to move forward. Two claps sends it backward. 

The movements may be pretty basic, but the science behind the robot, called Ear-Bot, is pretty wild. While the donor locust was dead, the researchers needed to keep the ear alive, so they developed an ear-on-a-chip device that supplies oxygen and feeds the ear, making it a sort of zombie organ.

The locust ear is kept alive with oxygen and food.

Tel Aviv University

The team published a study on the robot this year in the journal Sensors.  

"Our task was to replace the robot's electronic microphone with a dead insect's ear, use the ear's ability to detect the electrical signals from the environment, in this case vibrations in the air, and, using a special chip, convert the insect input to that of the robot," study co-author Ben Maoz in a Tel Aviv University statement on Tuesday.

Integrating biological systems with robots has some potential advantages over going full robotic, particularly when it comes to energy consumption. "They are miniature, and therefore also extremely economical and efficient," Maoz said.

The researchers hope Ear-Bot is just the beginning, and that it could lead to advancements in integrating other biological systems -- like noses that can sniff out drugs or explosives -- into robots. "Nature is much more advanced than we are," Maoz said, "so we should use it."