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Cyborg Crickets Could Chirp at the Smell of Survivors

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earthquake rescue squad

Sensor-laden insects may soon be joining search and rescue squads like this one.

Credit: Peri - Percossi / EPA

Research supported by the U.S. Pentagon is attempting to turn insects into search-and-rescue systems capable of locating trapped victims in earthquake rubble and other similar situations. The project's primary objective is to build on how insects communicate to create early warning systems for chemical attacks, though the researchers say the technology could be used to locate disaster victims, monitor for pollution or gas leaks, or serve as smoke detectors. The researchers have already created cyborg insects by implanting them with electrodes that control their wing muscles.

The plan is to create living communications networks by implanting a package of electronics within crickets, cicadas, or katydids, all of which communicate through wing beats. The implants will cause the insects to modulate their calls in the presence of certain chemicals. The changes in calls could be done by adjusting muscle tension or another parameter that affects the sound, and the insects may not even notice the change, says Ben Epstein, the project's lead researcher. The implants include a biochemical sensor, a device for modulating the wing muscles, and an acoustic sensor designed to respond to the altered calls of other insects, ensuring the "alarm" signal is passed quickly through the network.

The Pentagon's objective is to deploy insects capable of detecting chemical and biological agents on the battlefield, but Epstein says the insects also could be modified for civilian purposes.

From New Scientist
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