Cyborg Moth 'Biobots' May Fly in Future Search and Rescue Missions (VIDEO)

First Posted: Aug 20, 2014 11:51 AM EDT

Imagine a moth flapping its way through a disaster area, flying over regions that are too dangerous for humans. Now imagine if you could control that moth in order to assess an area, bringing back critical data for search and rescue missions. Scientists may have managed just that; they've developed a new method for electronically manipulating the flight muscles of moths and for monitoring the electrical signals that moths use to control those muscles.

"In the big picture, we want to know whether we can control the movement of moths for use in applications such as search and rescue operations," said Alper Bozkurt, co-author of the new paper detailing the work, in a news release. "The idea would be to attach sensors to moths in order to create a flexible, aerial sensor network that can identify survivors or public health hazards in the wake of a disaster."

The researchers were able to attach electrodes to a moth during its pupal stage, when the caterpillar is in a cocoon undergoing metamorphosis. By attaching electrodes to the muscle groups responsible for flight, the researchers could monitor electromyographic signals, which are the electric signals that a moth uses during flight to tell muscles what to do.

"By watching how the moth uses its wings to steer while in flight, and matching those movements with their corresponding electromyographic signals, we're getting a much better understanding of how moths maneuver through the air," said Bozkurt. "We now have a platform for collecting data about flight coordination. Next steps include developing an automated system to explore and fine-tune parameters for controlling moth flight, further miniaturizing the technology, and testing the technology in free-flying moths."

The findings could be a huge step forward to eventually creating biobots. In the future, researchers could send moths hooked up with electronics into the field in order to collect valuable information from areas where it's unsafe for humans to go.

The findings are published in the Journal of Visualized Experiments.

Want to learn more? Check out the video below, courtesy of YouTube.

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