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Japanese Scientists Aim to Create Robot-Insects

silkmoth mounted on wheeled vehicle

Professor Kanzaki's team mounted the severed head of a silkmoth onto an insect-machine hybrid and then stimulated the insect's still-functioning antennae and brain to control the wheeled vehicle.

Credit: Agence France Presse

Japanese scientists are working to create insect-robot hybrids, including robot-moths capable of detecting drug stashes and robot-bees capable of navigating earthquake rubble to find survivors. Tokyo University Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology professor Ryohei Kanzaki's goal is to obtain a thorough understanding of the human brain and be able to repair connections damaged by disease or an accident, which will first require a very close examination of insect "micro-brains."

The human brain has about 100 billion neurons, while insects have far fewer. However, despite their small size, insect brains excel at specific tasks, including complex aerobatics used to catch another bug while flying, proof that insects have "an excellent bundle of software" that has been refined by hundreds of years of evolution, Kanzaki says. For example, male silkmoths can locate females more than a kilometer away by sensing their pheromones.

Kanzaki wants to artificially recreate insect brains. "Supposing a brain is a jigsaw-puzzle picture, we would be able to reproduce the whole picture if we knew how each piece is shaped and where it should go," Kanzaki says. "It will be possible to recreate an insect brain with electronic circuits in the future. This would lead to controlling a real brain by modifying its circuits."

Kanzaki's team has already succeeded in genetically modifying a male silkmoth so it reacts to light instead of odor, or to the odor of a different kind of moth.

From Agence France Presse
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