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Are "Cybugs" the Next-Generation Responder?

In the future, some of our first responders might be insects decked out with high-tech communications equipment. New research is investigating the possibility of sending insects wearing cameras and microphones into dangerous environments to gather information in lieu of putting human first responders at risk.

University of Michigan College of Engineering researchers are working to learn how to harness energy from insects to turn them into tiny cyborgs with potentially life-saving results. If this research pans out, a beetle could be a first responder’s best friend.

"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 Professor Khalil Najafi, the chair of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan College of Engineering. "We could then send these 'bugged' bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go."

The concept revolves around harvesting the insect's biological energy from either its body heat or movements. The device converts the kinetic energy from wing movements of the insect into electricity, thus prolonging the battery life. The battery can be used to power small sensors implanted on the insect (such as a small camera, a microphone or a gas sensor) in order to gather vital information from hazardous environments.

The research team described several techniques to scavenge energy from wing motion and the measured power from beetles in their paper, "Energy Scavenging from Insect Fight," which was published in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.

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