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DragonflEye Project Wants To Turn Insects Into Cyborg Drones 78

New submitter robotopia writes: Scientists at a research and development company called Draper are using genetic engineering and optoelectronics to turn dragonflies into cybernetic insects, reports IEEE Spectrum. To control the dragonflies, Draper engineers are genetically modifying the nervous system of the insects so they can respond to pulses of light. The goal of the project, called DragonflEye, is enabling insects to carry scientific payloads or conduct surveillance.
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DragonflEye Project Wants To Turn Insects Into Cyborg Drones

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  • Sounds like an episode of Black Mirror. The bees are next.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actually there was a Get Smart episode about this. CONTROL had spend millions developing the spy fly and were demo'ing it when MAX walks in the room and swats it

      • TV Series or Movie? I don't know about the series, but in the movie, it is Agent 23 (played by The Rock) who snatches the fly out of the air and tosses it into a trashcan.

        Get Smart - Agent 23 [youtube.com]

        The crash into a building bit at the end is not part of the movie, obviously.

  • Not at all creepy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @09:08AM (#53741335)

    This is not at all creepy. It's not remotely creepy. It is in no way awfully, shockingly, horrifyingly creepy; and there's no way this can be abused or go wrong.

    Nope.

    • One day they'll malfunction and start digging into people's brains.
    • "Scientific payloads" . . . or nano-size nuclear weapon payloads . . . Edward Teller and Johnny von Neumann would have loved this . . .

      • Nano-size nuclear weapons? I don't see that coming.
        • by cdrudge ( 68377 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @09:36AM (#53741455) Homepage

          That's because they're nano sized. Duh.

        • I assume that was a joke but cesium-based weaponry offers yields several orders of magnitude greater than chemical explosives (though less than conventional fission warheads) and is well-suited for microminiaturization.

          The future's going to be... interesting.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            I assume that was a joke but cesium-based weaponry offers yields several orders of magnitude greater than chemical explosives (though less than conventional fission warheads) and is well-suited for microminiaturization.

            The future's going to be... interesting.

            If you weren't on some government "watch list" before, well, you probably are now!

        • by J053 ( 673094 )

          2000 or so insects, each carrying a gram of plutonium, flying into a compact mass at a designated point...

        • by idji ( 984038 )
          Oh they can come! imagine nano-biobots delivering nanosize nasties like these two famous cases - you would'nt need to get as close as a cup of tea or umbrella. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      • "Scientific payloads" . . . or nano-size nuclear weapon payloads . . . Edward Teller and Johnny von Neumann would have loved this . . .

        Of course, it's going to be a problem to get enough mass into an insect to detonate fissionable material.

        Maybe we can clone some of those carboniferous age insects. Those bastards were huge!

        • by cusco ( 717999 )

          I saw a fossil of a half-meter long dragonfly when I was a little kid, and the first thing that came to my mind was I WANT!!!

          "Alexa, send the giant dragonfly to bring me a beer."

          • I saw a fossil of a half-meter long dragonfly when I was a little kid, and the first thing that came to my mind was I WANT!!!

            "Alexa, send the giant dragonfly to bring me a beer."

            Humans would have found it very interesting among the humongous bugs back in the day.

    • The same arguments are made for GMOs and fetal stem-cells.

      Still, you're correct. This can go horribly wrong. A weaponized swarm of bees. Wonderful. Didn't Minority Report has something similar to that?
  • by AxeTheMax ( 1163705 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @09:15AM (#53741363)
    Some time ago I was thinking that the increased use drones could lead to the military killing all birds and larger flying animals from their target areas in case they were used by their enemies. Now it seems that there are reasons for all life to be made a target. An army might find that a literal scorched earth approach - exterminate everything, animal and plant, in the soil and above - is needed to get them victory. As with the use of nuclear bombs on cities, apologists will find ways of justifying this.
    • by mark-t ( 151149 )
      Are they going to be granted an exemption for killing members or protected species as well?
  • This is obviously a ploy for funding. This is junk science at it's peak.
    • This is obviously a ploy for funding. This is junk science at it's peak.

      Not necessarily so. There have been remote control cockroaches for several years now.

    • "This is junk science at it's peak."

      And that was junk grammar at its peak.

    • by cusco ( 717999 )

      In spite of half a century of work on robotics there is still nothing as flexible, adaptable and efficient as living creatures. Ma Nature has had four billion years to get it right, so a dragonfly can zoom around all day refueling in mid-flight while a robotic imitation needs a tether or a battery that runs down in a couple of minutes.

      Here's a practical application; want to check for gypsy moth caterpillar damage in the upper canopy of the closest forest? You could climb up a couple dozen trees, or send t

  • Draper engineers are genetically modifying the nervous system of the insects so they can respond to pulses of light.

    Or is it not much of a stretch? [youtube.com]

  • Cool stuff! (Score:5, Funny)

    by orlanz ( 882574 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @09:22AM (#53741395)

    Wait till Musk gets a wind of this. We will have the Lexx before 2020!

  • Scientists are working out a way to make bugs that are... bugs?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I await the day this can be scaled to humans. Humans would be much more tolerable if their minds were all controlled by pulses of light... or is that what we call television?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm not sure about that. Trump is being controlled by Putin via a device on his head that looks convincingly like hair. He's not very tolerable.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Remember Iran taking the cyber-squirrels, upgraded version of "Acoustic kitty" from the 60's. Do you really think we stopped that when squirrels are a bigger threat to our infrastructure than hackers? (https://hardware.slashdot.org/story/17/01/21/039256/are-squirrels-a-bigger-threat-to-our-critical-infrastructure)

    Birds and insects have been on a "wishlist" for a very long time. There are darpa grants to indicate this. In our current hyper-surveillance age, you don't think the massively funded military in

  • Soon (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NotInHere ( 3654617 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @09:51AM (#53741515)

    Soon the secret service will shoot down every pidgin, every fly entering the air space of the white house. Drones are banned already.

    • I hope not, pidgin has helped people from different cultures communicate for centuries.

    • by dhaen ( 892570 )

      Soon the secret service will shoot down every pidgin, every fly entering the air space of the white house. Drones are banned already.

      I see you are speaking pigeon English - very clever!

  • for every single "bug-sized robots are coming" I've read over the years, I'd probably be able to make one myself now. It's a great idea but it's been in the pipeline far too long. Calling it now, in the next 3 months we're going to see another "bug-sized robots are here" story. That's about all one can say with certainty about this invention. As long as science exists, there will always be a researcher looking for funding so they can design a bug-sized robot, only to fail at the last second when they realiz
  • Next, we'll need sharks with lasers on their heads to send the commands to the cyborg dragonfleyes.

    I love where this is going.

    • So that's where the tornadoes came from; and why the sharks were so pissed when they landed. Got it. Nice to know.
  • then where's my flying car?

    • by Z80a ( 971949 )

      When people stop crashing cars into things while drunk.
      In 3D this problem would be significantly worse.

  • Draper Labs has been around for nearly a century; it's a nonprofit R&D institution that does defense-related research, often classified. Referring to it as "a company called Draper" means the poster hasn't done their homework. And they aren't using "optoelectronics", they are using "optogenetics".

    This project is an academic research project, like literally thousands of others at universities and non-profits funded by the US government. This is no Weyland-Yutani or Tyrell corporation.

    • by Shag ( 3737 )

      Yes, "The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc" is a non-profit that spun out of a little school called MIT in the 1970s. (Not to be confused with "Lincoln Laboratory" which is still officially MIT-run, or "MITRE Corporation" which was created in the late 1950s with mostly former MIT/Lincoln folks.)

      • It was spun off due to left-wing protests and pressure and hatred of all things military. The cowardly action by MIT administrators damaged MIT, Draper Labs, and the nation.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    We've been here before - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danny_Dunn,_Invisible_Boy

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Thursday January 26, 2017 @01:34PM (#53742783)
    Go read Azimov's The Dead Past [wikipedia.org] if you haven't yet. He makes a great point - the ultimate endgame of this type of surveillance technology isn't the government or corporations spying on everything we do. It's regular people using it to spy on each other.

    The voyeurs are going to have a field day with this. You'll never know anymore if your bedroom, your shower stall, the inside of your car as you drive to work, your work office are truly private. Even if you lined a room with metal to create a faraday cage, an insect could be programmed to enter, loiter while a camera records for a few hours, then exit so it can upload the recorded video. You thought companies tracking your web browsing habits with cookies was invasive? You ain't seen nothing yet.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    #surveillanceculture

  • Not quite exactly the same, but kind of...
    One of my favorite Danny Dunn [wikipedia.org] stories as a kid..

Lo! Men have become the tool of their tools. -- Henry David Thoreau

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