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Cyborg Bugs as First Responders?

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Nov. 30, 2011 — A device that harvests energy from a bug’s movements could allow cyborg insects — rather than humans — to monitor hazardous situations.

The principal idea is to harvest the insect’s biological energy from either its body heat or movements. The device, developed by engineers at the University of Michigan, converts the kinetic energy from wing movements into electricity — prolonging battery life.

Through a device invented at the University of Michigan, an insect's wing movements can generate enough electricity to power small sensors such as a tiny camera, microphone or gas sensor. (Images courtesy of Erkan Aktakka)

The battery can power small sensors implanted on the insect (such as a small camera, a microphone or a gas sensor) to gather vital information from hazardous environments.

“Through energy scavenging, we could potentially power cameras, microphones, and other sensors and communications equipment that an insect could carry aboard a tiny backpack,” said Khalil Najafi, professor of electrical and computer engineering. “We could then send these ‘bugged’ bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go.”

The researchers designed a spiral piezoelectric generator to maximize the power output by employing a compliant structure in a limited area. The technology developed to fabricate this prototype includes a process to machine high-aspect ratio devices from bulk piezoelectric substrates with minimum damage to the material using a femtosecond laser.

The research was funded by DARPA's Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems program. The university is pursuing patent protection for the work and is seeking commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.

The work was published in the September 2011 issue of the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.

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