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Draper's Genetically Modified Cyborg DragonflEye Takes Flight

A live dragonfly with a cybernetic backpack and optical implants is now airborne

2 min read
A live dragonfly with a cybernetic backpack and optical implants is now airborne
A live dragonfly with a cybernetic backpack and optical implants is now airborne.
Image: Draper via Vimeo

In January, we wrote about a cybernetic micro air vehicle under development at Draper called DragonflEye. DragonflEye consists of a living, slightly modified dragonfly that carries a small backpack of electronics. The backpack interfaces directly with the dragonfly’s nervous system to control it, and uses tiny solar panels to harvest enough energy to power itself without the need for batteries.

Draper showed us a nifty looking mock-up of what the system might look like a few months ago, but today, they’ve posted the first video of DragonflEye taking to the air.

The unique thing about DragonflEye (relative to other cyborg insects) is that it doesn’t rely on spoofing the insect’s sensors or controlling its muscles, but instead uses optical electrodes to inject steering commands directly into its nervous system, which has been genetically tweaked to accept them. This means that the dragonfly can be controlled to fly where you want, without sacrificing the built-in flight skills that make insects the envy of all other robotic micro air vehicles.

The unique thing about DragonflEye is that it doesn’t rely on spoofing the insect’s sensors or controlling its muscles, but instead uses optical electrodes to inject steering commands directly into the its nervous system

It looks like the above video is mostly showing that the electronics and hardware can be interfaced to the insect while still allowing it to fly, so we may not be seeing the control system in action yet. Even so, this research seems to be moving along very, very quickly, and we’re not entirely sure when this video was shot, so our advice is to give every dragonfly you see zipping around outside a second glance, just in case.

For lots more on DragonflEye, including why Draper thinks this research is worth pursuing, make sure and read our article and interview with principal investigator Jesse J. Wheeler.

[ Draper ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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