Robo-moth: the robot driven by a moth's brain

University of Arizona researchers created a robot that moves by using the brain impulses of a live moth.

The insect is immobilized inside a plastic tube, mounted on the robot. The scientists drill a tiny hole in the back of the moth’s head (gosh...) and attach an electrode to a single neuron in its brain that is responsible for keeping the moth’s vision steady during flight. The electrode picks up the moth’s visual signals, which the robot is able to interpret through an electrical device. For now, the robo-moth is able to turn left or right but not forward or backward. The longest recorded movement so far has been 88 seconds.

What’s the idea behind such an (slightly creepy, you must admit) invention? Charles M. Higgins, UA associate professor of electrical and computer engineering who has built other robots based on insect neurobiology, explained that the idea of a robo-moth was born when he started wondering how he could tap into the brain of a live insect, and attach its sensory system to a computer or a robot. It occurred to him that if he could wire up a robot to a super-sensing animal's brain, he could get an nearly indestructible machine with a cheap, disposable sensor.

“Disposable” is an important word here. As you can read in Dan Sorenson’s article: "There are no ethical considerations," Higgins said about tossing a used-up moth in the trash and "installing" a new one. "This stuff can be done with rats, cats and monkeys," he said. "But I have some ethical concerns with them, especially monkeys. But throw away a moth - who cares?". Well, you would surely find a few people who do care, but what the heck.

Anyway, there is a noble goal behind mingling a moth and a robot. The robo-moth has the potential for military missions, detecting bombs, land-mine sniffing and stealthy approach with low detectability. "In disaster scenarios," Higgins said, "you don't want to send humans in, but an insect can cover rugged terrain" that a robot can't. US Army would probably find it a great Christmas present.

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