Image 1 - Insects Could Help Find Disaster Survivors
December 26, 2011

Insects Could Help Find Disaster Survivors

Insects outfitted with tiny cameras and microphones could be used to help find survivors of earthquakes and other disasters during search and rescue operations, scientists have said.

The device will be powered by the insect themselves as they move. By converting kinetic energy into electricity, the devices could have a lasting power source. The device could also harness electricity from heat given off as well.

The idea is that once these insects, particularly beetles, are fitted with the equipment, they can be released into collapsed buildings and rubble too dangerous for humans to venture and left to explore.

“Through energy scavenging, we could potentially power cameras, microphones and other sensors and communication equipment that an insect could carry aboard a tiny backpack,” Professor Khalil Najafi told The Telegraph.

“We could send these ℠bugged´ bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go,” he said.

The “Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems” project is being designed by Najafi and a team of electrical and computer engineers at the University of Michigan. The project is funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA).

Researchers have already developed a device able to generate power from the wing movements of a Green June beetle during tethered flight. By mounting mini generators on the wings of an insect, scientists believe they can achieve enough power to operate onboard cameras and microphones which can be used to “gather vital information from hazardous environments,” the researchers said.

“One of the main constraints in the development of Micro-Air-Vehicles (MAVs) is the limited weight and volume reserved on the device for a power supply,” added Najafi. “Energy scavenging from an insect´s high frequency body movements hold great advantages such as unlimited source of power over the insect´s lifetime, and no need for recharging.”

The team said their “final prototype will be mounted on a live beetle, and tested during its untethered flight” next year. The university is pursuing patents for the technology and are seeking investors to help fund the project.


Image 2: Through a device invented at the University of Michigan, an insect's wing movements can generate enough electricity to power small sensors such as a tiny camera, microphone or gas sensor. Image courtesy of Erkan Aktakka


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