NTU and UC Berkeley scientists develop technology to remotely control giant beetles

SINGAPORE - Scientists from Singapore and the United States have developed a tiny high-tech backpack that can wirelessly control the flight of giant flower beetles, with materials that cost than S$10.

The technology can be used as an alternative to drones or in search-and-rescue missions, said Nanyang Technological University (NTU) assistant professor Hirotaka Sato in a statement by the university on Wednesday.

The joint study by NTU and the University of California (UC) Berkeley was published in peer-reviewed biomedical research journal Current Biology on Monday.

It found that the beetles, which are around 6cm in length and about the weight of two $1 coins, can be directed to take off, turn left or right, or hover in mid-flight through signals transmitted to the backpack every millisecond. They take care of the rest of the flight on their own.

Six electrodes from the microprocessor are connected to a beetle's optic lobes and flight muscles. A 1cm microchip is strapped onto its carapace using organic beeswax, which does not harm the beetle, allowing it to fulfil its regular adult lifespan of about five to six months.

Prof Sato, the lead author of the study, said that the beetles could help to go into areas previously inaccessible. "It could be used in search-and-rescue missions as it could go into small nooks and crevices in a collapsed building to locate injured survivors," he said.

He hopes further research will improve the precision of the beetles' remote-controlled turns, making them more accurate.