If you thought "Robocop" was a little far-fetched, think again. Cyborgs — especially cyborg insects — are making the spy technology scene.
The newest recruits in the War on Terror are high-tech "flies on the wall." Scientists in the U.S. are fitting insects — and rats, moths, pigeons, bulls and even sharks — with special implants so they can be remote-controlled and deployed for surveillance.
The creatures are installed with special electrodes, batteries and even video cameras. The goal is to create the ultimate cyborgs to serve the U.S. as undetectable super spies.
So how will cyborg rats be critical to national security?
They will be incredibly useful in search-and-rescue missions. Because they can identify specific scents, such as those of humans or explosives, cyborg rats are expected to be used to find people trapped under rubble or to sniff out bombs.
Cyborg rescue rats will be equipped with mini-backpacks to transmit to mission control messages such as "mission accomplished" or "target located." The most advanced generation will carry "rat cams" to give the cyborg commander a "rat's-eye view." They also will be trained to board a "ratmobile," so they easily can be transported to the site of their mission.
Israel has picked up this American program to use cyborg rats in its search-and-rescue missions.
Taking "Jaws" to an entirely new level, the small, spiny dogfish shark was successfully turned into a cyborg in a project conducted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. (They're the folks who brought us the real-life R2D2.) To steer the cyborg, a brain implant directs the shark to turn left or right by tricking it to follow phantom odors.
The U.S. was left behind last year when a Chinese team successfully transferred cyborg technology to birds. Pigeons’ brains were implanted with electrodes that allowed the Chinese team to command them via wireless signals from a laptop. They created the ultimate cyborg "spy in the sky."
Scientists plug into and hijack these living animals’ sensory abilities because they are vastly superior to the majority of artificial sensors available on the market. The cyborgs’ intense sense of smell, for example, allows them to detect the faintest trace of chemicals — a skill very useful in counter-terrorism.
Rats, pigeons and sharks are big enough to carry miniature video cameras, computers and the batteries to power them.
But they are all too large, and not to mention too unpopular, to blend into the background and conduct stealth operations. So to produce the Jason Bourne of cyborg spies, DARPA’s latest cutting-edge project focuses instead on developing cyborg insects whose flight agility is unmatched.
The Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems project, or HI-MEMS, is miniaturizing the technology to fit within the body of an insect.
DARPA has been inserting tiny brain probes into insects such as moths and beetles while they are still in the pupa stage, so the implants are naturally incorporated into their bodies as they grow. The implants, wired into the cyborg insects' nerves, allow operators to control their movement remotely and send back information to a central computer.
Almost indistinguishable from the average insect, these cyborg spies will provide our military and counter-terrorism specialists with a huge surveillance advantage.
The U.S. military could deploy the cyborgs in hostage situations or even send them into enemy barracks. The goal is to engineer insects that can fly up to 300 feet away, land within 15 feet of their target and stay in a particular place until they are commanded to leave.
DARPA-funded research teams are prohibited from speaking about their work, but check out this sneak peek of a cyborg tobacco hawkmoth taking orders from its operator.
So next time you think that is just a pesky ordinary moth munching on your favorite sweater, think again. It could be a cyborg spy.
And once enemy nations and terrorists catch up to American cyborg technology, our soldiers and law enforcement may need to think about adding flyswatters and bug spray to their arsenals.