Coming soon, insect cyborgs to the rescue

Scientists at the University of Michigan are working on a device that might eventually allow them to use the wing movements of insects to generate enough electricity to power small sensors such as tiny cameras, microphones or gas sensors. The Michigan scientists say this research might lead to insect cyborgs – insects whose abilities can be enhanced by mechanical elements implanted on their tiny bodies, or carried in little backpacks – used to monitor hazardous situations before sending in humans.

Professor Khalil Najafi, the chair of the department of electrical and computer engineering at UMich, and doctoral student Erkan Aktakka, are finding ways to harvest energy from insects. Through this energy scavenging, they say:

… We could then send these ‘bugged’ bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go.

The principal idea is to harvest the insect’s biological energy from either its body heat or movements. The device they are making converts the kinetic energy from wing movements of the insect into electricity, thus prolonging the battery life of items carried by the insect cyborgs, so they can “gather vital information from hazardous environments,” these scientists say.

In a paper called Energy Scavenging from Insect Flight (recently published in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering), the team describes several techniques to scavenge energy from wing motion and presents data on measured power from beetles.

The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property, and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.

Bottom line: Professor Khalil Najafi and student Erkan Aktakka are finding ways to harvest energy from insects, using, for example, the motion of their fast-beating wings. They say this energy could be used to power batteries for powering small sensors such as a tiny camera, microphone or gas sensor. Then these insect cyborgs could go places humans can’t. P.S. … resistance is futile.

More from UMich: Insect cyborgs may become first responders, search and monitor hazardous environs

Jay Harman froze a whirlpool to clean water or air

Physicists develop lasers inspired by bird feathers

November 26, 2011

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Deborah Byrd

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