Just last week, the United States Office of Naval Research awarded researchers at the Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri $750,000 over three years to create what will be essentially, bomb sniffing insects.
The researchers are meant to alter locusts to remotely sense bombs and other explosive devices.
That would mean that these altered locusts, would be able to detect chemical changes in areas with possible dangers, like land mines, with their antenna, and alert users sitting far away in safety.
It’s like something straight out of a sci-fi movie really.
Baranidharan Raman, a biomedical engineer at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri one of the members of the project, told Popular Science;
“The chemical sensing part of these insects is extremely well-developed, they can smell a new odor that comes into the environment within a few hundred milliseconds.”
Raman also spoke with the BBC, informing them that both humans and locusts have the ability to pick up one chemical among many others, like smelling burning toast in a room with flowers in it. However, artificial technology that has tried to mimic natural senses of smell, like the ones in animals, still can’t make as many distinctions among chemicals.
These bomb sniffing insects are preferable to other animals; say a dog, which really has the best reputation and standard for chemical detection technology; because they have a less complicated neurological system, making them easier to engineer and control.
According to Raman, the surgery to modify locusts to be able to transmit sensory data is relatively simple, the insects can recover from surgery in about a day “and behave as if nothing had happened.”
The researchers plan to direct the bomb sniffing insects to tattoo specially engineered silk onto locusts’ wings.
The tattoo is meant to convert laser light into heat to goad the bug to fly in different directions.
A small electrode implanted into the locust’s brain with surgery will allow users to sense what the insect’s antenna are picking up and information from the antenna can either be stored on a tiny device put on the bug’s back or wirelessly transmitted to users stationed in safety.
Researchers and engineers hope to be able to test a prototype before a year has passed, and have fully-functional bomb sniffing locusts within two years.