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Scientists are Turning Dragonflies Into Genetically Modified Cyborgs

Scientists are Turning Dragonflies Into Genetically Modified Cyborgs

Summer is great for obvious reasons: Sun, beaches, ice cream, music festivals, shorts, campfires, and so on. As wonderful as that all is, though, with the end of winter comes the re-emergence of bugs, and boy does it feel oppressive. If only we could make some practical use of them. That’s what biomedical solutions company Draper is doing with their latest project, an ambitious endeavor to turn dragonflies into genetically modified insect cyborgs (via Engadget).

The DragonflEye project aims to turn dragonflies into miniature drones that we can control. While humans have created drones that are small and easy to control, nothing we’ve made compares to the precision movements of natural flyers like dragonflies, so instead of trying to beat them, Draper is trying to join them by creating tiny backpacks that harvest energy via solar panels and let us control the insect by activating the insect’s “steering neurons” with pulses of light in the dragonfly’s nerve cord.

“DragonflEye is a totally new kind of micro-aerial vehicle that’s smaller, lighter and stealthier than anything else that’s manmade,” says Jesse J. Wheeler, a biomedical engineer at Draper. “This system pushes the boundaries of energy harvesting, motion sensing, algorithms, miniaturization and optogenetics, all in a system small enough for an insect to wear.”

The project wrapped up its first year and has yet to test on actual dragonflies, but now that the technologies are further along in their development, they are “preparing to equip dragonflies with first-generation backpacks in a motion capture room that can monitor their precise flight movements as data is captured from navigation system.”

If this research proves successful, it could be applied to other similarly sized insects, and turn them into drones, pollination machines, and other non-sinster bots. Personally, we’d try and get them to put food directly into our mouths, so perhaps it’s best we’re not the ones pioneering this technology.

Featured image: Draper

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