Researchers have developed a tiny backpack that can be fitted to live dragonflies in order to turn them into a mini cyborg ‘drone’.
The DragonflEye program, first announced back in January, now has a fully functioning prototype which can be attached to the backs of insects while they fly outside.
The team at Draper and Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Massachusetts have built a device, fitted with electronics, sensors and a solar cell for charging.
But they aren’t just hoping to passively use the insects to carry the backpack.
While being worn, the device sends pulses of light into special ‘steering’ neurons inside the dragonfly’s body and causes the nerves to react, sending guidance commands and causing the animal to move in a certain direction.
They want to be able to guide the flightpath of dragonflies in order to be used for guided pollination, payload delivery, reconnaissance and even precision medicine and diagnostics.
Jesse J. Wheeler, biomedical engineer, said: “This system pushes the boundaries of energy harvesting, motion sensing, algorithms, miniaturization and optogenetics, all in a system small enough for an insect to wear.
“The smallest aerial drones mimic insects in many ways, but none can match the efficiency and maneuverability of the dragonfly.”
And they aren’t just hoping to use them on dragonflies; the technology could be used on more of the planet’s smallest and most agile insects.
For instance, honeybees, whose population has collapsed by half in the last 25 years, could be equipped with Draper’s technology to assist with pollination.
But not everyone is pleased with the concept, commenters on Drapers video expressed discomfort at animals being used in this way.
Pablo Rebufello said: “This is not the way to treat a living creature. Plus, this is not necessary at all, there is enough technology to construct an even smaller drone with more capabilities than this so called ‘cyborg’.”
And Norman Bruderhofer said: “This is not a ‘micro-aerial vehicle’ but a life-form which is forced to act at your will. It is quite appalling.”