Spy Flies

For thousands of years humans have used animals for transportation, trade, and farming. We’ve used homing pigeons to deliver covert messages, sent sentinel canaries down coal mines, and ridden horses, camels, and elephants brazenly into battle. Now, with an idea literally inspired by a cyborg-ridden science-fiction novel, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s fundamental research and development program for Hybrid-Insect Microelectromechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) aims to harness insect power.

By implanting micromechanical systems inside larval insects, researchers can watch developing tissue fuse to, and grow around, tiny machinery as the insect undergoes metamorphosis. Should the project prove successful, enabled insect cyborgs (directed by remote-control signals) could eventually carry miniature implanted equipment, such as microphones, video cameras, or gas sensors, to relay information collected from target destinations. “The program is aimed to develop technology that provides more control over insect locomotion,” says project manager Dr. Amit Lal, “just as saddles and horseshoes are needed for horse locomotion control.” Last year the first implanted pupae, a Manduca moth, survived to adulthood.

Kathleen Yale mixes well in the west, midwest, and east, recently as an editorial intern at Orion.


  1. Thanks for that quick snippet into insect cyborg drama. This insight adds an unexpected dimension to my long time outhouse fear of “something” being down the hole waiting to leap up or lash out… buzz buzz buzz…

  2. Too funny Brian! Let’s hope no one wants pictures of THAT view.

    My first thought was whether it hurts (!!) to have mechanical stuff in your guts. What can I say, I’m a softee, even towards bugs. But then the mind wandered to conspiratorial thoughts… could this be how the Cylons got their start? Are we humans next? Perish the thought.

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