Remote controlled beetles flown by scientists

Interesting Engineering
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Scientists find studying flying insects difficult, usually they have to be tethered in place to watch them but then this affects how they fly. Now scientists at the University of California have looked into a different way of studying them; they put a backpack onto giant beetles and control them remotely in free flight.


[Image Source: UC Berkeley]

By being able to study the beetles via remote control it gives the researchers a better insight into how insects fly. They also pointed out that it could help in search and rescue missions where it would be next to impossible to go in on foot.


[Image Source: UC Berkeley]

The backpack strapped to the beetles features a 3.0 volt micro lithium battery along with a wireless transmitter and receiver. It also features six electrodes which are attached to the optic lobes along with the flight muscles of the giant flower beetles.


[Image Source: UC Berkeley]

To test out the system the beetles were put in a closed room with 3D motion capture cameras. Every millisecond the researcher’s transmitted radio signals to the backpack stimulating the different muscles selectively. This allowed the researchers to get the insects to take flight, hover and make left or right turns. The backpack also sends neuromuscular data to a computer.


[Image Source: UC Berkeley]

One of the things that scientists were able to discover from the remote control beetles was that the coleopteran third axillary sclerite muscle of the beetles had a key role to play in the ability of the beetle to turn. It was previously thought that the muscle was used just for folding the wings of the beetle in the covers of the wings.


[Image Source: UC Berkeley]

The remote controlled beetles could be put to use beyond research as the lead author of the study explains: "We could easily add a small microphone and thermal sensors for applications in search-and-rescue missions," he said. "With this technology, we could safely explore areas not accessible before, such as the small nooks and crevices in a collapsed building."


[Image Source: UC Berkeley]


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