There have been reports that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the United States military is gearing up for the rise of cyborg soldiers, with implantable chips to allow the human brain to be connected to computers.
Researchers from the Washington University in St. Louis, however, will not have humans as their subjects for cyborg transformation. Instead, engineers are planning to make cyborg locusts, which will be used to sniff out explosives. The engineers are looking to tap into the powerful sense of smell that locusts have, to use them as biorobotic sensing systems.
Associate professor of biomedical engineering Baranidharan Raman, from the university's School of Engineering & Applied Science and the leader for the project, has already received a three-year grant worth $750,000 from the Office of Naval Research, securing the Navy as the backer of the cyborg locust initiative.
Raman and his team have studied the method through which locusts process smells. They have found that the bugs are able to detect certain scents, including the ones that they have been trained to identify, even if there are other scents in the surroundings.
"Why reinvent the wheel? Why not take advantage of the biological solution?" said Raman in his defense of the project, as he believes that cyborg locusts will do a better job at bomb detection than robots that will be created for the purpose.
The variety of sensors that are featured in modern explosives detection devices pale in comparison to the sheer amount of sensors that can be found in the antenna of locusts, which have several hundreds of thousands of sensors of different types.
In order to transform locusts into cyborg bomb detection machines, the team will implant electrodes into the brains of the bugs to be able to read the electrical activity passing through their antennae. The engineers will also outfit the locusts with a tiny backpack to transmit the data their antennae will collect, with the receiver lighting up red when an explosive is detected and lighting up green when the area is clear.
In addition to hijacking the olfactory senses of the locusts, the researchers are also looking to give the bugs biocompatible silk on their wings, which will be able to convert light into heat. A laser coming from the backpack will then allow operators to control the flight of cyborg locusts to have them function more like remote-controlled drones.
Barring any unforeseen delays, Raman and his team will have the first prototype of the cyborg locusts up for testing within a year, with the final form of the project in two years.