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Pulp Science: Real (Scary) Transformer Tech

Wednesday 24th June 2009 by GalacticNar

By now most of us have seen Michael Bay’s sequel to Transformers – and can agree that it’s the legion of cool looking robots that steal the show, right?

There’s a point in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen when Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox are hiding out in an adobe hut from a host of Decepticons, only to have a tiny robotic insect flutter in through a crack in the wall…

There is no hiding from robotic insect surveillance.

The size and aerial maneuvering of an insect is ideal for surveillance and recon. Researchers at Harvard University have created a robotic fly the size of a penny that’s actually able to fly using a real fly’s wing structure. It weighs 60 milligrams and beats its wings 120 times per second. You can see the design in the video below:


The robofly still has a ways to go, however, as it does not yet have communication capabilities or a significant built-in power source. There’s also the question as to how to control it at remote distances.

So what about a natural insect fused with robotic parts? Say, a cyborg moth?

For years DARPA (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has been trying to develop cyborg insect spies that can be controlled remotely. Problem is, living things don’t survive with robotic parts in them… Until now.

Georgia Tech professor Robert Michelson reports he has had success getting moths to live into adulthood by putting the mechanical components into the abdominal area of the bugs at the larval stage.

Implanting micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) inside insects during the early stages of metamorphosis allow tissues to grow around the tiny machines and fuse with them as the bug gets older. (I’m imagining the innards of the cylon raiders.)

The ultimate goal for The Pentagon is to have swarms of remotely-operated insects with micro-sensors like microphones or gas sensors to relay back information (read: spy).

Right now, there are still plenty of hurdles to seeing this nightmare come to life. Let’s hope they don’t get their hands on The Allspark.

Nar Williams hosts Science of the Movies, Thursdays at 10pm on Science Channel, and Heads Up! He’s also on Twitter.