“Those who hide behind jargon and hard to understand sentence constructions are as clueless as the rest of us on the subject matter”, explained my Food Chemistry Professor when advising us on how to write our essay assignments 12 years ago. Keep It Simple Scientists (KISS), he emphasized. Despite his advice, we hardly came across simple Food Chemistry books and Journals that followed his guideline of KISS as far as sentence construction and choice of words are concerned.

But not all scientists are afraid of explaining their research works in a manner that the general public can understand. For instance, researchers from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University reported their work of embedding electronic devices on a living beetle (Mecynorrhina torquata; Coleoptera) in a way that even you can understand what they were up to. If you care, you can read through their research work here.

What Feng Cao, Chao Zhang, Hao Yu Choo and Hirotaka Sato accomplished was to construct and insect computer hybrid legged robot whose locomotion is controlled by a computer. To achieve the motion control, the researchers explained that the “protraction/retraction and levation/depression motions in both forelegs of the beetle were elicited by electrically stimulating eight corresponding leg muscles via eight pairs of implanted electrodes”, and in this way a defined walking gait (e.g. gallop) is achieved. The specific walking speed or gait is realized by sending a predefined sequence and duration of signal to the electrodes embedded on the muscles of the forelegs. 

Why would researchers go at length to construct hybrids of living things with computers like the case of insect computer hybrid? Definitely the first insect computer hybrid hasn’t been the Beetle robot as we already had Roboroaches (a robotic cockroach) whose locomotion were not as refined as that of the newly made Beetle robot. One important reason is that these insect computer hybrids open up a whole new world of research.

As the electrodes and computer chips work together with living organisms, researchers are able to understand the improvements that are needed in order to create more natural computer components that are able to behave like components of living organisms. We do know that medical breakthroughs in areas of artificial organs and prosthetics have been occurring in the past five years, but they are yet to be perfect. In the not so far future, humans would like to understand perfectly how the living brain works so that they could back up memories of human subjects in digital files to later upload them either in robots or in lab grown brains – thereby theoretically enabling humans to live potentially forever.

Immediate and practical application of insect computer robots is in the area of emergencies, especially when humans are trapped underground following an earthquake or similar disasters. It would be okay to send drones to identify places where these humans are trapped, but drones are still too big in size and very expensive to manufacture. But if hundreds or even thousands of insect computer robots could be easily constructed, then their deployment to disaster areas would be more cost effective.

As the researchers explain in their paper, “The second advantage of insect–computer hybrid robots over man-made robots is their low power consumption rate (a few milliwatts). By comparison, man-made miniature robots of a similar size consume a few hundred milliwatts. Moreover, owing to advanced biofuel cell technology, the insect–computer hybrid robot may be self-powered by energy harvesters embedded in the living insect platform”.


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