Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Who let the crickets out?

Editor's Note: Blanketing the landscape with robotic insects in order to establish an omnipresent early-warning network is an idea that has some money behind it, as you'll see below. - July 13, 2009, by Lisa Zyga

By taking advantage of the way crickets communicate, researchers are building "cyborg crickets" that could form a mobile communications network for emergency situations, such as detecting chemical attacks on the battlefield, locating disaster victims, monitoring gas leaks, and acting as smoke detectors.

This kind of living, mobile communication network would include groups of not only crickets, but also cicadas and katydids. Like their natural counterparts, the cyborgs would communicate through wing beats. Containing a package of electronics and sensors, the insects would change their call tone in the presence of various chemical and biological agents on the battlefield, or even the scent of humans trapped in rubble after natural disasters.

The technology's designer, Ben Epstein, came up with the idea during a visit to China, where he heard cicadas changing calls in response to each other. Recently, the Pentagon has awarded Epstein's Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey-based company, OpCoast, a six-month contract to develop a mobile communications network for insects. The biggest challenge will be to fit all the necessary electronics into a tiny body, and then make hundreds or thousands of them in each network.

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