Beetles with backpacks could check out danger

University of Michigan engineers are kitting out beetles with sensors, aiming to use them to monitor hazardous situations before sending in human beings.

The plan relies on harvesting energy from the insect’s body heat or movements to keep a small battery on its back topped up.

This can power tiny sensors implanted on the insects, enabling them to gather useful information in dangerous environments.

“Through energy scavenging, we could potentially power cameras, microphones and other sensors and communications equipment that an insect could carry aboard a tiny backpack,” says professor Khalil Najafi.

“We could then send these ‘bugged’ bugs into dangerous or enclosed environments where we would not want humans to go.”

His team’s successfully used several different techniques to scavenge energy from their beetles’ wing motion.

They’ve designed a spiral piezoelectric generator to maximize the battery’s power output by using a compliant structure in a limited area.

The research was funded by DARPA; the university’s now pursuing patent protection, and looking for commercialization partners to help bring the technology to market.