Cyborg beetles and insect spies

5 Oct 2009

A new research project at the University of California, Berkeley, to remotely control insects by stimulating their nervous systems, brings a new meaning to the term “fly on the wall”.

Because of their size and ability to fly, insects such as beetles are looked at as an ideal way to – amongst other things – act as enemy spies … but if only they could be controlled like a remote-control toy or vehicle.

As it turns out, the Berkeley research project, funded by the Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is doing just this.

According to New Scientist, engineers, led by Hirotaka Sato and Michel Maharbiz, have connected electrodes and radio antennae to beetles, making it possible to steer them by controlling their nervous system.

This is literally the first time that scientists have been able to “program” a living creature: electrides implanted into the brain and muscles of two different species of beetle can cause them to take off, move in different directions and go into descent, depending on the sequence of electrical impulses sent to the beetle brain.

By Marie Boran, via

Photo: Insects, such as beetles, may someday be remotely controlled through the stimulation of their nervous systems.