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Scientists from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University have made a new robotic creation using what they describe as “nature’s ready-made robot platforms” – insects. They describe their findings in a paper just published in the Journal of the Royal Society interface. “To the best of our knowledge, this paper presents the first demonstration of living insect locomotion control with a user-adjustable walking gait, step length and walking speed,” reads the abstract.

This is major. It goes well beyond the (almost) infamous Roboroach or many other scientific methods of controlling insects’ locomotion. Previous studies focused on and succeeded in instigating motion in cockroaches and spiders, even steering them, by inducing an irresistible urge to move (through electric stimulus or other means). Here, the researchers managed to control the limbs and make them move of their own accord.

To achieve this, the team investigated the giant flower beetle (Mecynorhina torquata) and its muscles and the tension patterns of various types of movements. Then, the researchers connected wires to the muscles and stimulated them with signals from a (nearby) microcontroller. Only the two front legs were wired in this experiment (the researchers note that two-legged gaits naturally occur in insects), but the experiment was a wild success.

“Walking control with such user-adjustable modes and parameters would improve the agility of the insect–computer hybrid robot towards practical applications,” the engineers write. These applications could include hybrid-insects specially designed for surveillance and espionage or even emergency response scouts, where the hybrid-insects would be sent through tiny cracks in a collapsed structure to find survivors.