I’ll be very, very, interested to see how the line of separation between bio-mimetic engineers and biologists snapping interfaces into nervous systems shakes down in these very small robots.
With larger systems, we have certain advantages that allow us to compensate for our deficiencies (no good synthetic muscles? Check out wheels, nature! Inability to fabricate stuff with cells, which are pretty damn close to ‘nanites’ from sci-fi? Sure, but we can stamp out plastic and metal structural components by the ton at assembly line scale); but these tend to work less well for severely weight-constrained and small-scale structures.
Something like chitin (or, really, the dozens-to-hundreds of finely tailored variants with different properties suitable for different structural applications) is not necessarily earth-shattering on the scale of an I-beam; but it’s damned brilliant, possibly essential, if you are trying to build a bug.
Will team Materials Engineering step up with biomimetic carbon nanotubes and graphene and stuff, or will it turn out to be easier to find the insect closest to what you need and then tack a very small RF module onto a few important parts of its nervous system(ideally during the larval stage so it can grow around the implant) and let nature do what it does best while maintaining a control capability?
Anyone get the Kill Decision vibe off this article? I love biomimicry. And fiction. And when the fiction may be less fictional than it originally appeared.
One thing that will get…awkward… is that anything insect-size will be largely incapable of kinetic or explosive kills. Even vicious chewing mouthparts at melee range will be difficult.
In nature, this ‘problem’ has been solved by an array of poisons, toxins, and pathogens that are as elegant as they are terrifying. The use of such mechanisms is banned by treaty, of course; but nobody is going to be satisfied with being a mere ‘fly on the wall’, when they could be a weaponized fly on the wall, for long; but explosives and projectiles just won’t scale down that far. Only chemical or biological agents will fit the bill. Not going to be pretty.
Power. No matter how much they shrink machines, power will always be the stumbling block.
Yawn. Over the past 20 years I’ve seen numerous articles on insect sized robots. University projects, DARPA projects. Each and every one of them characterized as an expensive toy. Notice those small wires leading to true only one of these things that is actually flying? Yep - same thing in all the other publicity releases over the years. Sure its neat, but it won’t be real until the following are true:
The power supply to run the motor is onboard, not fed by a tether. Of course, once you add the battery (or capacitor) onboard, the weight increases so the lift capacity must be augmented…
The capability to control the unit is onboard and not fed by a tether. This could be an onboard processor (making the bot autonomous), or it could be a radio with the major intelligence and control fed from a distance like other RC devices.
You add enough sensors or weapons to make the thing useful. A minimum would probably be a camera. A viable weapon could be a poisoned dart or needle.
Show me a bee-sized device with the above features and I’l sit up and take more notice. This certainly isn’t to detract from the micro engineering effort that I am certain has already been invested to make the tethered version work - it just won’t be more than a toy until the above features are added.
A nice little ricin stinger might do the job…
Perhaps keep the bee mimicry accurate… Have an alpha voltaic power source that uses polonium 210Po – the polonium also serves as the payload, so the “bee” “dies” after stinging the target.
In post-soviet russia, bee ‘fertilizes’ you…
Swarming. 20,000 goliath beetle jaws versus a single human in anything less than a fully sealed bomb suit, I’m putting my money on the swarm of insects every time. If we can remote control one bug, we can remote control arbitrary bugs, given enough wireless spectrum, and time to modify the insects.
And it’d be a truly terrifying way to die. All of a sudden earwigs, beetles, bees, and centipedes beyond count squeeze out of the nooks and crannies we’re always surrounded by. The cloud of bodies blots out the sun, and the land-bound ones turn the ground into a writhing sea of pincers and mandibles. And then they finally descend upon their hapless victim. Death by a thousand cuts, quite literally.
“As the writhing, teeming mass of mindworms swarmed over the outer
perimeter, we saw the defenders recoil in horror. “Stay calm! Use your
flame guns!” shouted the commander, but to no avail. It is well know
that the Mind Worm Boil uses psychic terror to paralyze its prey, and
then carefully implants ravenous larvae into the brains of its
still-conscious victims. Even with the best weapons, only the most
disciplined troops can resist this horrific attack.”
Everyone’s trying to think up new applications for bee sized robots. What about as bees? If we ever face another situation like the recent scare about honey bee hives suddenly dying and don’t reverse it in time, maybe we can engineer tiny robotic pollinators. Or maybe they can pollinate crops in places where there are no natural pollinators. We can get seeds to Mars as well as robots and habitation supplies. Live insects may be a trickier thing.
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