Cyborg Moths, Wired From Birth, Could Serve as Living Drones

By Shannon Palus | August 22, 2014 10:15 am


In a lab at North Carolina State University, researchers have created moths that are a blend of wires and tissue. The eventual plan: to control a cyborg moth army. The biobots could be used to map ecosystems, spot survivors in search and rescue missions, or to carry out spy missions.

Creating a Moth-Bot

Hacking an animal is possible because animals are, in part, electric: movement (in moths or in you) happens when the brain sends an electric signal to a muscle. A controllable cyborg bug could, theoretically, operate like a tiny robot — one that’s been honed by millions of years of evolution.

Previous work on cyborg moths has shown that the concept can work. In 2012, a team at MIT successfully steered a moth by controlling the twisting of its abdomen with electric pulses. What has been challenging is monitoring how the moth itself accomplishes moving while minimally restricting its flight — a feat that could help researchers design better electrical complements.


Wired Up

This latest cyborg-moth iteration gives researchers a peek into how a moth goes about flapping its wings — and therefore, how that flapping could be controlled. Alper Bozkurt and his team integrated an electrode into the insect by inserting it while the pupa was in its cocoon. As the bug’s tissue developed, it fused to the implants; wires were incorporated with tissue.

Then, when the moth emerged, the researchers observed its flight by magnetically levitating the moth. A tiny arena with LEDs simulated movement, and scientists wirelessly collected data as the moth navigated. In this controlled environment, the researchers could observe the electric pulses that the moth’s brain sends to its wing muscles. The researchers published their method in the Journal of Visualized Experiments.

A Legion of Bugs

In future work researchers could use the implant to send signals to the moth to control wing-flapping. The biobugs could also carry tiny payloads to achieve their missions: a microphone to pick up sound, or sensors to detect dangerous gases.

We aren’t yet in an era of free-flying, spying, cyborg moths — it will take more research on how these critters move. And though they’ll be the product of meticulous research and engineering, they’ll also be ideal for navigating dangerous situations: after all, they’re just bugs.


Photos by Alper Bozkurt

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology, top posts
  • Uncle Al

    All your nightlights are belong to us! I for one gladly welcome our Manduca sexta overlords.

  • Andy Warstar

    Unethical practices like this violate an animals right to freedom and a natural life. I’m against pesticide use as well #fuckmonsanto #peta

    • Zilor

      They are Moths. It’s a Moth. IT’S A MOTH!

      It’s not like the broke into your house and shoved a motherboard and some ram inside your Dog and had it go find lost campers.

      They wired up a Moth.

      • Mike C

        I’m fairly certain he’s being sarcastic lol

        • Zilor

          I would hope, but I’ve seen people say that kind of stuff seriously.

      • DoubleCheck

        I’m sure that they are not going to move on to Fido, much less….. After all, these are the folks who brought us ISIS and Gaza.

  • xasxa

    PETI = NEw Org!

    • Matthew Slyfield

      People Eating Tasty Insects?

  • sakusakusakura_nyo

    This is kind of scary. Someone could make a whole bunch of killer bees sting people. We’d have to dress like bee keepers all the time.

    • Jordan

      that’s an exact episode of a lot of shows i’ve seen like grim and naruto and xfiles

    • Facebook User

      Ah, very true :-)

    • DoubleCheck

      They could make a bunch of killers to guide the killer bees, but wait! We already have those. Some of them are assaulting Gaza and eastern Ukraine right now. But they could be improved upon by the addition of of a few microcircuits.

  • steve waller

    What about the detrimental effect on birds that will eat the moths?

    • Facebook User

      Then you would have a double benefit of a long range wired bird, or what if a lizard ate one, it could peer at you all night!

    • DoubleCheck

      Worse than being born and raised in a CAFO?

  • Facebook User

    I love these posts. I was just wondering; If you accidentally swatted one would you be billed for the damage? Or imagine one hitting a bug zapper, pretty! Or if you used bug spray on them would you be guilty of chemical warfare???
    And not only would they eat holes in your clothes, they might develop a taste for your silicon chips, oh dear…

    • DoubleCheck

      They would send the Ferguson police force. Missouri uber alles!

  • Precarious Mutiny

    Does anyone worry about privacy and how this could be used, it says spying in the article, like thats a good thing?
    Or how this tech could evolve?
    Science is awesome in a terrifying way.

  • disqus_pFomH2XM20

    Large numbers of such cyborg moths have now been dropped over Mosul and Raqqa.

  • xJustiinsane

    Imagine, this technological advanced body control scheme is released to the mass and will allow humans to be controlled, by whatever.. That is what scares me the most…


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Briefing you on the must-know news and trending topics in science and technology today.

See More

Collapse bottom bar