The advance opens the door to the development of remotely-controlled moths, or “biobots” for use in emergency response, researchers said. “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 Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University and co-author of the research paper.
“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,” said Bozkurt.
The research presents a technique Bozkurt developed, in conjunction with Dr Amit Lal of Cornell University, for attaching electrodes to a moth during its pupal stage, when the caterpillar is in a cocoon undergoing metamorphosis into its winged adult stage. By attaching electrodes to the muscle groups responsible for a moth’s flight, Bozkurt’s team is able to monitor electromyographic signals - the electric signals the moth uses during flight to tell those muscles what to do.
The moth is connected to a wireless platform that collects the electromyographic data as the moth moves its wings. To give moth freedom to turn left and right, the entire platform levitates, suspended in mid-air by electromagnets.