Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Rise of the Machines. . .Yet Again

So we have unmanned flying planes to shoot missiles at people, cave robots with machine guns, controllable sharks, remote firing turrets with automatic grenade launchers . . . but what have you done for me lately? DARPA is seriously restless lately.

In an announcement posted on government Web sites last week, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, says it is seeking "innovative proposals to develop technology to create insect cyborgs," by implanting tiny devices into insect bodies while the animals are in their pupal stage.

As an insect metamorphoses from a larva to an adult, the solicitation notice says, its "body goes through a renewal process that can heal wounds and reposition internal organs around foreign objects, including tiny (mechanical) structures that might be present."

The goal is to create technology that can achieve "the delivery of an insect within five meters of a specific target located at hundred meters away, using electronic remote control, and/or global positioning system." Once at the target, "the insect must remain stationary either indefinitely or until otherwise instructed ... (and) must also be able to transmit data from (Department of Defense) relevant sensors ... includ(ing) gas sensors, microphones, video, etc."

The move follows challenges the agency says it has encountered in its efforts to train insects to detect explosives or other chemical compounds, and to mimic their flight and movement patterns using small robots.

If you read on, you'll see they've been up to similar projects in the past (the referenced "challenges") that haven't worked out. Many of you may think this is ridiculous. I say it's probably a good idea. One can easily find me bitching about the funding of gigantic new classes of nuclear submarines and more advanced stealth fighter jets (when almost no one can shoot down the ones we have currently) and how that money needs to be redirected to our most used weapon system: the ordinary soldier. This is an example of that. If we could develop cyborg insects, it would definitely help the military with intelligence and help regular groups of soldiers utilize them to be generally more aware of their surroundings. So waste of money? Probably if you take a short-term view. These R&D project will undoubtedly fail, but if they get closer to something like this it will surely help.

But then the NSA will probably get hold of them and use houseflies to spy on all of us (that's not a wiretap, so there's no worrying about FISA!) and make me eat my words, as I usually do. (Hat tip: David Corn!)