Japanese researchers have created a cyborg beetle equipped with solar energy

Have you ever imagined a solar-powered cyborg beetle carrying a circuit-like backpack on its back? Such an idea may seem a little strange; But now, a team of researchers at Japan’s RIKEN Research Institute has turned the common Madagascar beetle into a real cyborg insect by connecting a lithium battery, a solar cell, some wires, and finally relying on a small electronic circuit. The constructed cyborgs can be controlled using Bluetooth signals. Also, researchers suggest that these robots can be used for search and rescue missions in the future.

The researchers refer to their cyborg as a hybrid insect-computer system that incorporates a live insect as a platform and a mini-electronic system as a controller. Basically, this system should be considered a bio-robot; Because while it can be controlled like a robot, it also has the power to explore and navigate a complex environment with the skill of an insect. The team of researchers claims that insect cyborgs can defeat even traditional soft robots when it comes to useful real-world navigation.

Reliance on the power of the sun

Considering the body shape of this 6 cm cockroach, the researchers designed a polymer “backpack”. This backpack can carry all electronic equipment without disturbing the bug while moving. The backpack contained an electronic controller, a lithium battery and several wires. Each wire was connected on one side to the controller and on the other side to the distinctive legs of the beetle.

Whenever the researchers want to move the cockroach, they send a Bluetooth signal to the circuit board, which then sends an electric current through the wires to the legs. These currents actually mimic sensory inputs; Inputs that direct the beetle to the right or left using reflexive behavior. It should be noted that with all this electronic equipment, the cockroach’s brain still plays a key role in activating its muscles and making the cockroach move.

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Researchers soon realized that a cyborg bug might be needed for several days or even weeks at a time in some operations or missions. On the other hand, they knew that the small lithium battery would not be sufficient for such long periods of time to respond to the required energy, and since the beetle’s brain remained intact, it would be possible for the system to abandon any type of mission assigned to it and, so to speak, Run away!

To overcome the energy challenge and to boost the cyborg’s overall energy supply, researchers have developed an ultra-thin solar cell. This solar cell was placed inside the beetle’s stomach to overcome the energy problem. Although the said solar cell is only 4 thousandths of a millimeter thick, it can provide power equivalent to 50 times the power required by the control unit. But there was a fundamental problem. The solar cell made was so wide that it prevented the beetle from moving. During the initial experiment, the researchers found that the insect moves at half its initial speed and cannot return to its normal direction after each fall or deviation from the original path.

Cyborg beetle electrical circuitsA picture of a cyborg beetle created by researchers in Japan

The research team applied adjustments to the position and arrangement of the cell and finally they were able to equip the cyborg beetle with a solar cell and battery; The battery provided a total of 17.2 milliwatts of energy. Kenjiro FukudaOne of the authors of this study, emphasizing the importance of the solar cell unit, says:

To successfully perform tasks related to urban rescue operations, cyborg insects are equipped with computers to control movement, as well as sensors to search for people and wireless communication devices. Together, these items require 10 to 100 milliwatts of power consumption. Therefore, energy storage devices installed on insects are very important to increase the range of activity and performance of biorobots.

He also noted that other scientists have proposed other types of bio-robots, from moth robots to cyborg cockroaches. However, he believes that most of these cyborg insects do not have means of storing or accumulating energy on their bodies; Because the occupied space and the weight load of the energy device significantly disrupts their mobility. Considering these considerations, it can be said that adding a suitable energy collection device (solar cell) to recharge the electronic control unit on the cyborg insect has been one of the main achievements of this research team.

Cyborgs vs soft robots

It may seem more practical and easier to use soft robots instead of cyborg insects for search and rescue missions. Soft robots never abandon a mission like cyborg cockroaches. Additionally, they can be made faster and more efficiently. Perhaps the question arises, why do we need cyborg insects in this case? We should look for the answer in the keywords of energy and cost. All we need to turn a cockroach into a cyborg is a miniature circuit, a power source, some wires and a control unit, and a polymer backpack. Meanwhile, the soft robot is completely made from scratch.

Although it may seem time-consuming to attach the wires to the legs of the beetle; But the time required to make a soft robot is more. Additionally, such robots require more energy than their insect counterparts. We control insect movement by sending electrical signals to sensory nerves. Fukuda explained:

This approach requires a power consumption of approximately 100 µW, which is much lower than the power consumption required by mobile actuators for small robots (typically 100 µW or larger).

Apart from having the capabilities of a robot, the cyborg cockroach can navigate the environment well using the inputs received from its natural senses, which is something that a soft robot can never handle in this way. Based on this, researchers argue that cyborg insects will provide better assistance during search and rescue missions than any other technology. Fukuda and his team are now planning to make cyborg versions of other types of insects; Including insect-based cyborgs with the ability to fly.

We have to wait for the work of this team and other research teams around the world to see how the progress of insect-based cyborgs will progress in the coming years. Description of this research work and its details Published in Flexible Electronics and available via this link.

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