The Snails of War and Other Robotic Experiments

The Snails of War and Other Robotic Experiments

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The electric snail is here. There’s an electric cockroach too. Both are early experimental forays in a new line of research aimed at creating tiny, self-powered animal/machine hybrids as an alternative to tiny robots. Instead of starting from scratch and having to solve all those pesky movement problems that plague roboticists, some researchers have asked, why not start out with living creatures that already know how to walk and fly? Then all we have to do is make them robotlike, outfitting them with the right technology so that we can enslave them and make them do our bidding — in search-and-rescue work, spying or attacking enemies with bug phobias.

A major challenge in roboticizing living creatures is that they don’t come with batteries, but electricity is needed to power the sensors and transmitters and that would enable remote control. But no problems are insurmountable — certainly not for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, the Alice-in-Wonderland government agency that supports all sorts of “what if” research, like mind-reading technology and insect/machine hybrids.

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