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Micro Energy Harvesters Will Make Cyborg Insects Unstoppable

Now that remote-controlled cyborg insects don't have to stop to recharge, we've eliminated the one weakness that has so far kept them from taking over the world

2 min read
Micro Energy Harvesters Will Make Cyborg Insects Unstoppable

Cyborg insects have been flying under remote control for over two years now, but the strict weight limits imposed by the fact that you're trying to turn a bug into a functional UAV means that their usefulness is still somewhat constrained. A rhinoceros beetle, for example, can manage to haul about 30% of its own weight as payload. This works out to be somewhere around 2.5 grams, which is not a whole heck of a lot, and if you're eating up a significant portion of that space with a battery, it doesn't leave much room for (say) a camera or missiles.

One option is a small nuclear battery, but a much more elegant solution (with less potential for creating a giant mutant cyborg insect of doom) is to simply harvest power directly from the insect itself. Researchers from the University of Michigan and Western Michigan University have developed a prototype insect energy harvester, pictured above, made of a piezoelectric material that converts wingbeats into electricity. By mounting one of these piezoelectric springs on each wing, simulations show that over 100 microwatts (μW) can be harvested, which is significantly more than the maximum of 80μW it takes to control the insect itself.

While this level of power isn't going to be able to charge those miniaturized laser cannons that I'm reasonably sure DARPA is working on, it does significantly reduce the energy drain on any auxiliary power system that might have to be carried along anyway. And as with all electronics, efficiency will only go up as mass goes down, until ultimately power will only be limited by the lifespan of the insect and the amount of tasty fruit that you can get your bug to chow down on in the middle of a mission.

[ Paper (*.PDF) ] via [ NBF ]

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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
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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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