Insects have served as the inspiration for a number of Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) that could be deployed to monitor hazardous situations without putting humans in harm’s way. Now researchers at the University of Michigan College of Engineering are proposing using actual live insects enhanced with electronic sensors to achieve the same result. The insect cyborgs would use biological energy harvested from their body heat or movements to potentially power small sensors implanted on their bodies in order to gather vital information from hazardous environments.
To harvest energy from insects, the researchers have designed a spiral piezoelectric generator that converts the kinetic energy from the insect’s wing movements into electricity. This power would be used to prolong the battery life of devices implanted on the insect, such as a small camera, a microphone or a gas sensor. The prototype piezoelectric generator was fabricated from bulk piezoelectric substrates and was designed to maximize the power output in a limited area.
“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 at the U-M College of Engineering. “We could then send these ‘bugged’ bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go…”
Getting the insects to go where their handlers want them to is another part of the puzzle that needs to be solved before insect cyborgs can be deployed. But DARPA has been working on this, having put out a call some years back for research proposals for Hybrid-Insect-Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) interfaces to control the movement of living insects. Combining the two technologies could be just the thing to take insect cyborgs to the next level and see them used to monitor hazardous situations in the not to distant future.
Two thoughts immediately come to mind:
PETA is going to poop in their pants over this idea.
Can we trust the insect cyborgs to be loyal to their new human masters – or will they become double agents on behalf of the Dark Side.
Wings which redirect air to waggle sideways could cut airline fuel bills by 20% according to research funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Airbus. The new approach, which promises to dramatically reduce mid-flight drag, uses tiny air powered jets which redirect the air, making it flow sideways back and forth over the wing.
The jets work by the Helmholtz resonance principle – when air is forced into a cavity the pressure increases, which forces air out and sucks it back in again, causing an oscillation – the same phenomenon that happens when blowing over a bottle.
Dr Duncan Lockerby, from the University of Warwick, who is leading the project, said: “This has come as a bit of a surprise to all of us in the aerodynamics community. It was discovered, essentially, by waggling a piece of wing from side to side in a wind tunnel.”
“The truth is we’re not exactly sure why this technology reduces drag but with the pressure of climate change we can’t afford to wait around to find out. So we are pushing ahead with prototypes and have a separate three year project to look more carefully at the physics behind it…”
The new micro-jet system being developed by Dr Lockerby and his colleagues could reduce skin friction drag by up to 40%. If successful this technology could also have a major impact on the aerodynamic design and fuel consumptions of cars, boats and trains.
Glad he’s already thinking about cars and trains. It was the first thing that came to mind.
Improving aerodynamics is effective in automobile engineering at surprisingly low speeds. BTW – I don’t care if this makes our four-wheeled friends a bit uglier. Saving money and fuel – and the environment – ain’t ever ugly to me.
Pterosaurs have long suffered an identity crisis. Pop culture heedlessly — and wrongly — lumps these extinct flying lizards in with dinosaurs. Even paleontologists assumed that because the creatures flew, they were birdlike in many ways, such as using only two legs to take flight.
Now comes what is believed to be first-time evidence that launching some 500 pounds of reptilian heft into flight required pterosaurs to use four limbs: two were ultra-strong wings which, when folded and balanced on a knuckle, served as front “legs” that helped the creature to walk — and leap.
Publishing in Zitteliana, Michael B. Habib, M.S…reports his comparison of bone strength in the limbs of pterosaurs to that of birds and concludes that pterosaurs had much stronger “arms” than legs. The reverse is true of birds.
“We’ve all seen birds take off, so that’s what’s most familiar,” says Habib. “But with pterosaurs, extinct 65 million years and with a fossil history that goes back 250 million years, what’s familiar isn’t relevant.”
A supersized glitch is inherent in the traditional bipedal launch model, Habib notes: “If a creature takes off like a bird, it should only be able to get as big as the biggest bird.”
Birds use legs to launch, wings to flap. They don’t get launch power from wings or flight power from legs. In fact, when a bird is aloft, its legs become payload, or cargo. The muscle on the two back limbs that provides the power to launch must be carried and therefore limits size. Released of that handicap by employing all four legs to launch, giant pterosaurs could fly despite the fact that they were roughly the same size and shape as modern-day giraffes.
Habib’s study is a delight – worth reading in depth – if I could find it in English. Now, we just need to straighten out all the science fiction movies for the next 80 years or so.