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Engineering bomb-sniffing locusts

Sensors placed on the insect monitor neural activity while they are freely moving, decoding the odorants present in their environment. (Photo: Baranidharan Raman)
Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis are developing a new biorobotic sensing system that will capitalize on locusts' highly advanced sense of smell. In studying locusts, the researchers found that they are able to correctly identify odors across a number of different situations, such as in the presence of other odors or overlapping scents, or in varying environmental conditions. They also found that odors prompt patterns of neural activity in the locusts' brains that can be analyzed. The researchers developed miniature electronic components to monitor the neural activity of the locusts, and gather, record and transmit data. A remote control system will also be developed to enable the researchers to steer the locusts' movement. Biocompatible silk tattoos that generate mild heat will be applied to the locusts' wings enabling them to be guided to particular locations. The researchers hope that locusts might serve as a more robust and cost effective alternative to using canines for homeland security and even medical diagnosis purposes. 

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