Cyborg beetles walk the walk

cyborg flower beetle

Cyborg insects aren’t new, but this beetle biobot comes with adjustable speeds and two walking gaits: tripod crawling, where three legs touch the ground at all times, and galloping, where pairs of legs move in synchrony. 

Hirotaka Sato

Resistance may soon be futile. With machine implants worthy of a Star Trek villain, a new breed of beetle takes walking instructions from its human overlords.

Hirotaka Sato and his colleagues at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore inserted electrodes into flower beetles (Mecynorrhina torquata) to stimulate specific leg muscle groups. By altering the order of electrical zaps, the team could control a beetle’s gait. Changing the duration of the electrical signals also altered speed and step length, Sato and colleagues report in the March Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Scientists have already made cyborg insects that can fly, scuttle and crawl, but controlling things like speed could allow biobots to do more complex tasks. Cyborg insects provide a more energy-efficient and easier-to-assemble alternative to plain old robots (SN: 3/8/14, p. 18) and double as a means to study insect locomotion, the researchers argue.

Scientists zapped cyborg flower beetles to stimulate specific muscles involved in two walking gaits, galloping and crawling.Hirotaka Sato

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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