Towards Insect Cyborgs: Interfacing Microtechnologies With Metamorphic Development

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Controlled by neurons, muscles are actuated to do mechanical work by converting chemical energy into mechanical power. Throughout history, humans have benefited from the muscle power of larger animals for farming, transportation and industry, the backbones of civilization. Although insects possess much higher muscle force to body mass compared to most large domesticated mammals, their direct locomotive uses have not been exploited reliably and reproducibly because of various challenges. This dissertation introduces the concept of Insect Machine Interfaces (IMI), a combination of microtechnology and neuroengineering, to control insect locomotion in a "biobotic" manner through the neuromuscular system. Early Metamorphosis Insertion Technology (EMIT) is a novel neurotechnological pathway for integrating microelectronic sensing and actuation platforms on insects during metamorphosis. Metamorphic development not only provides an elegant and effective method of mechanically affixing artificial systems in or on an insect, but also enables a reliable bioelectrical interface without any observable short term adverse effect on insect flight behavior. As an application of biobotic control of insect locomotion, the first results towards flight navigation in moths were established in this research. We were able to demonstrate on-demand wing actuation and flight direction control using microprobes inserted through the EMIT procedure, with the goal of insect navigation and domestication. Using this procedure, we were able to alter and control the flight of tobacco hawkmoth Manduca sexta by actuating its flight muscles on tethered setups. Successful locomotion control for both land and air was also demonstrated for the first time with remotely transmitted radio signals through electrodes inserted in the antennal lobe and neck muscles of the insect following an EMIT procedure. Initiation and cessation of flight and walk, as well as yaw actuation were obtained on freely flying and walking lift assisted moths through joystick manipulation on a conventional model airplane remote controller. The concept of lift assisted flight allows for transporting tens of grams while potentially increasing the flight duration of the insect biobots, enabling a vast number of engineering applications in which such biobots can be deployed ranging from ecological monitoring to search-and-rescue missions during natural disasters..

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