Design Engineering

Researchers tap cyborg beetles as “buggy” bugs

By Design Engineering Staff   

General University of Michigan

MEMS-equipped insects may become scouts in search and rescue or hazardous monitoring operations.

Ann Arbor, Mich.—Instead of creating fully mechanical robotic insects, researchers in the University of Michigan’s college of engineering are looking at ways to turn beetles into tiny cyborgs in the hopes they may someday be used to scout out hazardous situations before clean up crews or search and rescue teams move in.

“Through energy scavenging, we could potentially power cameras, microphones and other sensors and communications equipment that an insect could carry aboard a tiny backpack,” said Professor Khalil Najafi, the chair of electrical and computer engineering, in a press announcement. “We could then send these ‘bugged’ bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go.”

The idea involves adhering a small Micro Electromechanical System (MEMS) payload to the insect’s thorax. Within it, a pair of spiral piezoelectric generators harvest kinectic energy from the beetle’s wing motion.

Additionally, energy to charge the onboard batteries could be harvested from the beetle’s body heat or from thin film solar panels applied to its elytra (hard wing covers). The battery would then power small data-collecting sensors — including a camera, microphone or gas sensor — implanted on the insect.


The research was funded by the Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The university is currently patenting the technique and looking for commercialization partners.


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