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Fighting The Next War With Insects And Sharks

There is a long history of the use of the honey bee in war. Roman catapults, with bee hives as projectiles, unleashed the fury of angry bees on an advancing enemy. Bee hives booby trapped to topple over with trip wires were used to the advantage of both sides during battles in World War I. In Vietnam, the Viet Cong often used sabotaged Apis dorsata nests against the American soldier.

In addition to honey bees, other animals have long provided military assistance in many ways. Elephants and horses have been used for locomotion in wars. Pigeons have been used to send secret, covert messages. Of course, dogs have always answered the call of military duty. In the last several decades, the Navy has even used trained dolphins and sea lions to patrol harbors and locate potential undersea mines. So, it should come as little surprise that the United States military is experimenting with other animals in an attempt to gain an advantage on the battlefield of the future.

In fact, the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) in Arlington, Virginia, is currently involved in a number of military research studies investigating the use of electronic implants to monitor or control the movement and behavior of animals. Their research objective, if successful, would result in remote controlled (cyborg) animal spies that would operate without detection on the surface of the Earth and even under the sea.

Darpa military research is currently exploring ways to use electronic stimulus to control shark behavior and movement. In fact, scientists at Boston University have already developed brain implants that can influence the movements of dogfish (members of the shark family) by "steering" them using a phantom odor.

The military objective of controlling the movement of sharks is outlined in the New Scientist Magazine as follows; "By remotely guiding sharks' movements, the military hopes to transform the animals into stealth spies, perhaps capable of following vessels without being spotted. The Pentagon hopes to exploit the ability of sharks to glide quietly through the water, sense delicate electrical gradients and follow chemical trails.?

In addition to funding research to create these cyborg sharks, Darpa has also awarded funding to research groups at the University of Michigan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Boyce Thompson for the development of its '"HI-MEMS" program. This program's aim is to develop technology that provides more control over the locomotion of moths and horned beetles. Like the work with the sharks, the goal is to enlist these insects for the duty of animal cyborg spy.

The final demonstration goal of the HI-MEMS program is the controlled arrival of an insect within five meters of a specified target located one hundred meters from the insect's starting point. It must then remain stationary indefinitely, unless otherwise instructed. It must also be able to transmit data from Department of Defense sensors providing information about the local environment.

If this goal of the control over insect movement was achieved, insects with embedded micro electromechanical systems (MEMS) could run remotely controlled reconnaissance missions for the military. This could lead to insect swarms with various sorts of different embedded sensors such as video cameras, audio microphones, and chemical sniffers. These cyborg insects could then penetrate enemy territory to perform reconnaissance missions that would be to dangerous for human soldiers.

Of course, all of this animal cyborg research will require several more years of experimentation and study to determine the program?s military feasibility. In the meantime, British defense giant BAE Systems is creating a series of tiny electronic spiders, insects, and snakes that could become the eyes and ears of soldiers on today's battlefield. The first prototype of these robotic insect devices is expected before the end of this year.

The plan is for soldiers to carry the insect robots into combat and use a small tracked vehicle to transport them closer to their targets. Some of these robots will be fitted with small cameras, others will be equipped with sensors that will be able to detect the presence of chemical, biological, or radioactive weapons. Then they would be released to swarm into a building and relay images back to the soldiers' hand-held or wrist-mounted computers, warning them of any potential threats inside.

These BAE designed insect robots would be used until the cyborg insects are ready for the battlefield. There should be little doubt that the war of the future will integrate more advanced technology and that battlefield security will be a lot tougher to maintain. The United States military's intention is to fight the next war with a swarming army of animal cyborg spies .

Military research has led to many important applications in the private sector during the last several decades. Consider that it was military research funded by Darpa that led to the creation of the Internet. So, in the near future, to insure our personal privacy, we may want to remember to pull down the shade on that innocent looking moth sitting outside our window. It may well be a robotic or cyborg insect spy, fully equipped with a camera.

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