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Snails Join the War Effort

The ever-bizarre government agency DARPA, or Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has launched another would-be-funny-if-it-weren’t-sad research project. This one involves turning snails into hybrid robots for use in war.

The thinking is that the robotics industry has still not been able to create machines that mimic some of what animals do better. One of their challenges is that miniaturized robots need batteries, while small animals provide their own power. So the conclusion is:

Why start from scratch trying to create robots that behave like animals when you can simply turn animals into robots? All you have to do is take an animal, wire her up, and turn her into a hybrid robot. (See photo right.)

And why snails? The research is just in its early stages, and snails are apparently easy to catch and keep track of in a laboratory environment. (Cockroaches are also being used, but it’s less easy to keep control of them.)

The New York Times has a full article on the project. It describes the work of one of the researchers, a Dr. Evgeny Katz at Clarkson University, NY, to use snails as power sources for the tiny robots:

What he and his colleagues did was to poke two electrodes coated with enzymes through the shell of a snail into a space between the shell and the body, where glucose is present, produced by the snail for its own biological purposes. The enzymes promote chemical reactions that produce a flow of electrons — electricity — drawn from glucose molecules.

These hybrid animals are now known as Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems (HI-MEMS). The project is described on the DARPA website here.

Dr. Strangelove would be proud of it all.