Science

Cyborg dragonflies are officially a reality after tiny insects complete first test flight

Genetically-modified insects are expected to function like miniature drones.

Earlier this year, scientists announced they had turned dragonflies into drones by strapping special mind-controlling backpacks on them.

Now it seems the DragonflEye project has passed the first hurdle after some of the genetically-modified dragonflies took their maiden flight.

A brainchild of researchers at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the idea is to control the living insect’s flight remotely.

The bugs carried a tiny backpack fitted with electronics, sensors and a solar cell. A light source charges the solar cell, which powers the backpack.

Manual control of a tiny, fast-moving bug is not an easy undertaking and the researchers had to take great care in setting up waypoints – areas of activity – without causing damage to the insects.

The team relied on the technology known as optogenetics – where they infused certain parts of the bug’s anatomy with materials that react to light in a certain wavelength.

DragonflEye drones.
(Draper)

The dragonflies were genetically modified to make them more sensitive to the mind-influencing light pulses.

It sounds like something right out of science fiction but the scientists say this technology could be used in humans and lead to developments in medicine.

But at the moment, they say their immediate aim is to help farmers where Draper’s technology could be used as tiny guidance systems for honeybees to help promote pollination “by monitoring their flight patterns, migration and overall health”.

Welcome to the era of cyborg dragonflies.

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