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HI-MEMS cyborg insects (Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems)

The Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) program, also known as the cybug program, is a proposal from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to encourage the development of cyborg insects that can be controlled by humans. These insects, called cybugs, could be used for advanced reconnaissance. DARPA's goal is to create a cybug that could be maneuvered to within five feet of a target and transmit back information about its environment.

In its proposal, Darpa specifically requests innovative approaches and excludes any research building on current "state of the art." Here are the Agency's stated requirements for researchers:

  1. Demonstrate reliable bio-electromechanical interfaces to insects.
  2. Demonstrate locomotion control using MEMS platforms.
  3. Demonstrate technologies to scavenge power from insects.

The current thinking is that a cybug could be successfully created by putting a small bio-electromechanical interface, such as a chip, into a larva. The intent in early implantation is to take advantage of natural healing mechanism that occurs across developmental stages, theoretically improving the stability and robustness of the cybug system. At least in theory, when the larva goes through metamorphosis and reorganizes its nervous system, it will integrate itself with the circuit in such a way that humans can transmit signals to the chip and control the insect's behavior. Entomologists, for the most part, are skeptical about the program's chances for success.

HI-MEMS isn't DARPA's first foray into cyborg development. The Agency announced their cyborg shark project at the 2006 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii. An earlier cybug project involving wasps failed when the insects flew off to feed and mate.

This was last updated in March 2011

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