A genetically modified cyborg dragonfly that can spy on anyone has successfully completed it first test flight.
Dubbed the DragonflEye, the half-insect, half-machine is fitted with a fingernail-sized backpack, powered by a solar panel and remotely controlled by an operator.
The dragonfly can be used for ‘guided pollination’ as well as surveillance missions that will see the tiny insects reach areas that other drones can’t, according to researchers.
Researchers from Draper and Howard Hughes Medical Institute performed DragonflEye flighttests at the Janelia Research Campus in Virginia.
The insect could soon be used to carry payloads, according to Jesse Wheeler, a senior biomedical engineer at Draper which collaborated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to carry out the DragonflEye program.
The expert told Spectrum iEEE: ‘Beyond tracking, the DragonflEye system offers new miniaturized technology to equip a wide range of insects with environmental sensors and potentially guide important behaviors, like pollination.’
To create the DragonflEye, engineers had to develop a way of genetically modifying the nervous system of the dragonfly so it can respond to pulses of light.
To do this, the team gave the insect a gene which added light-sensitive proteins called ospins to the neurons.
This then allowed the neurons to be activated by the light – sent by an interface in the ‘backpack’ called an optrode.
The neurons then kicked into its usual routine of sending signals to the wings to encourage the insect to fly.
Mr Wheeler said: ‘In order to begin guidance of dragonflies, several key technologies needed to be developed.
‘Howard Hughes Medical Institute focused on developing gene delivery methods specific to the dragonfly to make special ‘steering’ neurons sensitive to light.
‘Draper developed a miniaturized backpack for autonomous navigation and a flexible optrode to control the modified neurons by guiding light around the dragonfly’s tiny nerve cord.