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University of Tokyo Roboroach
University of Tokyo
DARPA cyber-beetle
Insect implant Mems
BBC News
Cyber-beetle components

“Be on guard next time you step into the shower,” translates Ron Henderson from Sydsvenska Dagbladet:

It might not be a regular cockroach watching you on the ceiling. It could be a well-heeled voyeur’s spy filming you! 23

“Cybernetically enhanced bugs have become a reality,” notes William Eazel in an article for the website, “meaning that humanity may have more to worry about than the threat of AI-style robots taking over the world.” 24

Announced by the University of Tokyo in January 1997, Time Magazine reports:

Using hardy American roaches, scientists remove their wings, insert electrodes in their antennae and affix a tiny backpack of electric circuits and batteries to their carapace. The electrodes prod them to turn left and right, go backward and forward. The plan is to equip them with minicameras or other sensory devices.25

“The Pentagon’s defence scientists want to create an army of cyber-insects that can be remotely controlled to check out explosives and send transmissions,” alerts BBC News to U.S. Pentagon plans involving the development of Hybrid Insect Microelectromechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) cyber-insects. “The idea is to insert micro-systems at the pupa stage, when the insects can integrate them into their body, so they can be remotely controlled later”:

A similar scheme aimed at manipulating wasps failed when they flew off to feed and mate.

The new scheme is a brainwave of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), which is tasked with maintaining the technological superiority of the US military. It has asked for “innovative” bids on the insect project from interested parties.

Darpa believes scientists can take advantage of the evolution of insects, such as dragonflies and moths, in the pupa stage. “Through each metamorphic stage, the insect body goes through a renewal process that can heal wounds and reposition internal organs around foreign objects,” its proposal document reads. The foreign objects it suggests to be implanted are specific micro-systems – Mems – which, when the insect is fully developed, could allow it to be remotely controlled or sense certain chemicals, including those in explosives. The invasive surgery could “enable assembly-line like fabrication of hybrid insect-Mems interfaces”, Darpa says. A winning bidder would have to deliver “an insect within five metres of a specific target located 100 metres away”. The “insect-cyborg” must also “be able to transmit data from relevant sensors, yielding information about the local environment. These sensors can include gas sensors, microphones, video, etc.” 26

Bucky the cat
Bucky the Cat

Frank Swain describes a number of examples of cybernetic organism (cyborgs) in How to Make a Zombie:

Cornell University researchers have been able to take control of hawk moths in flight. On the other side of the US, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, posted a video on YouTube that showed a fist-sized giant flower beetle take flight and veer about a room following the commands tapped into a laptop. Going one better, in 2007 Su Xuecheng and a team of fellow students at the Robot Engineering Technology Research Centre, at Shandong University of Science in China, created remote-controlled pigeons.27

“Rats can be made to run, jump or climb, following instructions they receive by radio from a laptop computer,” reports Mike Finch for the American Free Press. “Clacking keys on a computer send these ‘ratbots’ climbing trees, winding through mazes, or searching through building rubble”:

“Our discovery grew out of ongoing research into the development of thought-controlled prosthetic devices for spinal chord [sic] injury,” said John K. Chapin, Ph.D., research partner of Sanjiv Talwar, M.D., Ph.D.

The brain implants have already enabled rats to move robotic arms by thought alone.

With testing being done on primates, some worry that this technology could eventually be used to control humans.28

“Asked to speculate on potential military uses for robotic animals, Dr Talwar [of the State University of New York] agreed they could, in theory, be put to some unpleasant uses, such as assassination,” notes The Guardian.29

“It will mean that every non-human life form in the server room will have to be exterminated,” said one security expert quoted in the article.30

Face seen through a cat's eyes, sample: 177 brain cells (JPG)   Branches seen through a cat's eyes, sample: 177 brain cells (JPG)
University of California, Berkeley

Neural implants have even allowed us to see through an animal’s eyes by processing signals in the brain.31 As BBC News reported in 1999:

By recording the electrical activity of nerve cells in the thalamus, a region of the brain that receives signals from the eyes, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley were able to view these shapes.… They recorded the output from 177 brain cells that responded to light and dark in the cat’s field of view. In total, the 177 cells were sensitive to a field of view of 6.4 by 6.4 degrees.… Given time, it will be possible to record what one person sees and “play it back” to someone else either as it is happening or at a later date.32

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23 Ron Henderson, trans., “Cockroaches on a secret mission,” Sydsvenska Dagbladet, 18 January 1997, at (retrieved: 12 December 2013).

24 William Eazel, “Robo-roach brings Judgement Day closer,” (source VNUNET, September 2001), Wirehead Hedonism, at (retrieved: 1 May 2011).

25 “Peepers creepers; Research at the University of Tokyo is investigating ways in which cockroaches with the mini-cameras can be used to locate vermin or perhaps even survivors of earthquakes,” Time, 27 January 1997, 149(4), p. 17.

26 Gary Kitchener, “Pentagon plans cyber-insect army,” BBC News, 16 March 2006, at (retrieved: 25 March 2011).

27 Frank Swain, How to Make a Zombie: The Real Life (and Death) Science of Reanimation and Mind Control (London: Oneworld, 2013), p. 140.

28 Mike Finch, “Remote Control Rodent ‘Ratbots’ Pass First Tests,” American Free Press, at (retrieved: 11 March 2015).

29 James Meek, “Live rats driven by remote control,” The Guardian, 2 May 2002, at (retrieved: 1 May 2011).

30 Eazel, “Robo-roach.”

31 Robert Sanders (Public Affairs), “Reconstructed movie showing animal view of world proves scientists have a good understanding of how the brain processes visual information,” University of California, Berkeley, 15 October 1999, at (retrieved: 1 May 2011).

32 Dr. David Whitehouse, “Looking through cats’ eyes,” BBC News, 11 Oct 1999, at (retrieved: 1 May 2011); See also: Garrett B. Stanley, Fei F. Li, and Yang Dan, “Reconstruction of Natural Scenes from Ensemble Responses in the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus,” The Journal of Neuroscience, 15 Sep 1999, 19(18):8036-8042, at (retrieved: 1 May 2011).

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