Technology and locusts are familiar pals, with the two having been smushed together as a means of sniffing out bombs just last year. Now, new research published in the journal Sensors has brought the two together to try and monopolize on an entirely different sense: hearing. Using biological material from a dead locust, the team was able to create a bio-hybrid robot that could hear using the locust’s ear. Yes, it’s entirely as bizarre as it sounds.
Insects have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and in that time they’ve picked up a few tricks along the way. One such super skill is their efficient and robust sensory organs which top even humans by comparison (another is their capacity to swarm). The not-so-humble locust was therefore deemed to be a biological treasure trove for a team of scientists in Tel Aviv, who wanted to see if they could utilize their sound-sensing skills for technology.
Locusts, like humans, have a tympanic ear – which means they detect vibrations across a flat surface and translate it into information about their environment. In humans, this tympanic ear is what’s known as the eardrum, which picks up on environmental outputs which we translate in the brain as sound.
For locusts, this tympanic ear sits further down the body, and as a “biological sensor” it can be applied to technology that will translate the feedback so long as the tissue remains viable (alive). By containing the membrane within an “ear-on-a-chip” device, the researchers were able to keep the biological material supplied with oxygen and nutrients so that it could continue to function despite no longer being attached to a living host.
Once up and running, this ear-on-a-chip was able to amplify the signal from the locust ear to a robot, which was programmed to give different responses to different inputs of sensory data. The deciding factor in the study was human claps, with one clap signaling the robot to move forward while two claps told it to take it back (now y’all).
“Using an Ear-on-a-Chip method, we manage to create a long-lasting miniature sensory device that operates as part of a bio-hybrid robot,” wrote the study authors. “The neural signals recorded from the ear in response to sound pulses, are processed and used to control the robot’s motion. This work is a proof of concept, demonstrating the use of biological ears for robotic sensing and control.”
The technological feat is an exercise in working smarter, not harder – why waste your time creating a robotic eardrum when locusts are out there listening to things every day? Who knows, before long you could have a robot-locust cyborg on the receiving end of your, “Hey Alexa, when is the RoboLocust Cyborg apocalypse coming?”
[H/T: New Atlas]