August 21, 2014
Analysis Of Moth Flight-Mechanics Could Result In Development Of Biobot Drones
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a way to convert moths into miniature drones by electronically manipulating their flight muscles and monitoring the signals the insects use to control them.
Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and colleagues from NC State and Cornell University devised a method to attach electrodes to a moth during its pupal stage, when it is still in a cocoon and undergoing metamorphosis. The research could lead to the development of remote-controlled emergency-response “biobots,” while providing new insights about how a moth coordinates its muscles during flight.
“In the big picture, we want to know whether we can control the movement of moths for use in applications such as search and rescue operations,” said Dr. Bozkurt, who co-authored a Journal of Visualized Experiments (JOVE) paper on the research.
“The idea would be to attach sensors to moths in order to create a flexible, aerial sensor network that can identify survivors or public health hazards in the wake of a disaster,” he added. “By watching how the moth uses its wings to steer while in flight, and matching those movements with their corresponding electromyographic signals, we’re getting a much better understanding of how moths maneuver through the air.”
Essentially, Dr. Bozkurt and his colleagues attach electrodes to the muscle groups that are responsible for a moth’s flight, which allow them to monitor electromyographic signals (the signals used by the insect when it takes flight to send instructions to the muscles responsible for keeping it airborne).
During the process, the moth is connected to a wireless platform which collects the electromyographic data as the moth moves its wings. The entire platform levitates and is suspended in mid-air by electromagnets, which allows the insect to have the freedom to turn left and right.
“We’re optimistic that this information will help us develop technologies to remotely control the movements of moths in flight. That’s essential to the overarching goal of creating biobots that can be part of a cyberphysical sensor network,” Dr. Bozkurt said, emphasizing that there is still a lot of work to be done on the project.
The research team did not actually control the movement of the moth during this trial, LiveScience News Editor Megan Gannon noted. Instead, they used the electrical implant to record data on how the robotic moth coordinated its own muscle movements while twirling both directions.
By the time the moth reached adulthood, enough tissue had grown around the implant that it essentially became part of the creature’s body. At that point, the study authors placed the insect in a circular arena that Gannon compared to “a miniature disco, complete with panels of LED lights.”
There, it was tethered to the platform and spun in the same direction as those rotating lights. By watching how the moth used its wings to steer itself while flying, and matching those movements with the corresponding electromyographic signals, the researchers said that they were learning much about how moths maneuver in the air.
“We now have a platform for collecting data about flight coordination,” he explained. “Next steps include developing an automated system to explore and fine-tune parameters for controlling moth flight, further miniaturizing the technology, and testing the technology in free-flying moths.”
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