This "Cyborg Beetle," Wearing a Texas Instruments CC2431 "Backpack," Can Be Remotely Controlled

Wearing a backpack to stimulate a pair of flight muscles, this "insect-computer hybrid robot" can be controlled via BLE.

Gareth Halfacree
8 days agoRobotics / HW101 / Drones

A team of researchers from Nanyang Technological University and the University of Freibur have developed a "cyborg beetle," designed to allow them to evaluate how the flight muscle of a giant flower beetle works.

"The new study demonstrated the role of subalar muscle in manipulating wing rotation angle is different from regulating wing beat amplitude of the basalar and third axillary muscles, the other major direct flight muscles," explains T. Thang Vo-Doan, first author on the paper, of its findings. "It also leads to a new challenge of controlling multiple muscles to achieve more complex flight maneuvers of the insects in free-flight."

While the study's findings relate directly to the living insect itself, how they were achieved that is of considerable interest in broader fields: The creation of a "cyborg beetle," in which giant flower beetles — Mecynorrhina torquate — were given a tiny wire-free electronic backpack to wear, designed to weigh little enough that it wouldn't throw the 6-gram (0.2oz) insects off their flight.

Fitted with a backpack featuring an inertial measurement unit (IMU) backpack and electrode connections to the insects' subalar muscles, the experiment is described as turning the creatures into "an insect-computer hybrid robot" — allowing the researchers to activate the left and right subalar muscles independently or together in order to yaw, roll, pitch, and break under remote command.

The cyborg beetle is controlled remotely via a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connection to its backpack. (📹: Vo-Doan et al)

The electronic package used by the team included Texas Instruments CC2431 and CC2642R microcontrollers — the latter used with an InvenSense MPU9250 IMU in the data-recording version of the backpack — along with a compact lithium-ion battery, retro-reflective tape, and six near-infrared cameras for external motion tracking.

The team's work has been published under open-access terms in the journal Cyborg and Bionic Systems.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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