Freely Flying Beetle

Robots are typically conceptualized as mechanical imitations of natural life, but increasingly, living organisms are being fitted with robotic parts, becoming biohybrid robots. One example of this is the radio-controlled freely flying beetle. Researchers T. Thang Vo Doan and Hirotaka Sato from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore inserted a small radion neuromuscular stimulator onto the flight muscles of the Mercynorrhina torquata, more commonly known as the Cleopatra beetle. The flight muscle, known as the third axillary sclerite, controls the direction that the beetle flies. By inserting the neuromuscular stimulator and transmitting a specific stimulation frequency, the researchers were able to control the direction that the beetle flew. The neuromuscular stimulators do not receive signals themselves, so the beetle was fitted with a tiny sort of “backpack” that picked up radio frequencies and transmitted them to the stimulators. All flights were captured by a high-resolution camera, which served to help monitor the beetle during flight. The experiment sheds light on the flight patterns of insects, beetles in particular, and opened new avenues of research for biohybrid robots. Since the studies’ debut in 2016, the biohybrid robotic research has expanded, with that of Vo Doan and Sato being most commonly cited. There are ethical concerns around the creation of biohybrid robots, particularly around the cooptation of the autonomy of the organism being studied and any pain and suffering the organism may feel during experimentation.

Shoji, Kan, Keisuke Morishima, Yoshitake Akiyama, Nobuhumi Nakamura, and Hiroyuki Ohno. “Autonomous environmental monitoring by self-powered biohybrid robot.”

Vo-Doan, T. Thang, and Andrew D. Straw. “Millisecond insect tracking system.

Romano, Donato, Elisa Donati, Giovanni Benelli, and Cesare Stefanini. “A review on animal–robot interaction: from bio-hybrid organisms to mixed societies.”


Artificial Life, Biodiversity, Monitoring, Visual Technologies