By Robert Hickson 10/02/2017

Here’s a sci-fi scenario that may become reality: genetically modified cyborgs susceptible to mind control.

That’s the plan for a collaboration between engineering R&D firm Draper and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  They are focusing on dragonflies, and using optogenetics so that their movements can be controlled by light.

The techniques and technologies are there, they just need to put them together.



Essentially they are hoping to create flying sensors that have better capabilities than artificial drones, since they don’t need batteries. They are the flip side of organisms inspiring robot designs.

Bomb detecting locusts are also being considered by other research groups. And electronic plants are in development too. The boundaries between biology, physics and engineering are blurring.

Cyborg cockroaches have been tried before, but didn’t work with great precision. Optogenetics gives the potential for more precise control, and electronics are getting better all the time.

DIY “roboroaches”, despite ethical protests, are still available, for educational purposes.

Robotic micro drone swarms are already a thing. But cybernetic insects could take the size down even more, though without having total control.

The question is should we modify the genes and “minds” of invertebrates (even often loathsome ones) for environmental and humanitarian purposes? I think that societal attitudes will not be so permissive, particularly if attitudes against commodification of nature increase as environments become more threatened.

Featured image source: Draper