London: Scientists have moved closer to creating ‘cyborg insects’ that could carry out spying missions with the creation of biofuel cells that run off their own bodies.
A team has created the implantable power packs that use the insects’ own body chemistry to fuel robot attachments fixed on to them.
The breakthrough brings us one step closer to the day when bugs could be fitted with recording devices, sensors or other electronics and used as tiny spies - an area which the US military’s DARPA research wing, has already researched extensively.
It is already researching how to ‘control’ insects using hi-tech attachments.
“Bees have been used to locate mines and weapons of mass destruction. The Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems program is aimed at developing technology to provide control over insect locomotion, just as reins are needed for effective control over horse locomotion,” Darpa’s site said.
The new technique, where the insect can ‘power’ electronic attachments using its own body chemistry, could be crucial.
Until now researchers had relied on solar power or conventional batteries but they were not powerful enough or did not last long enough to do the required tasks.
The ‘cyber bugs’ could potentially keep going for days on end - or even for as long as they are alive.
The research from Case Western Reserve University in the US involved putting two enzymes into cockroaches to break down the complex molecules they make after eating.
The first turns the molecules into sugar, and the second oxidises it - in the process releasing electrons.
These electrons are then run into the battery and produce a current.
After the tests the Case Western team put electrodes into the insects and found there was no long-term damage, which means they could be re-used for a number of missions.
Daniel Scherson, chemistry professor at Case Western and senior author of the paper, said that the possible uses were endless.
“An insect equipped with a sensor could measure the amount of noxious gas in a room, broadcast the finding, shut down and recharge for an hour, then take a new measurement and broadcast again,” the Daily Mail quoted Scherson as saying.
The research team is now trying to make the battery as small as possible so that the insect can fly or move around without the power pack restricting it.
They have calculated that the maximum output from the battery is currently 100 microwatts per square centimeter, at 0.2 volts.
A typical AA battery, the kind used to power many electronic devices, provides 1.5 volts.