Small step for a bug, giant leap for cyborg kind

M. torquata, the type of beetle used in the study (supplied)
M. torquata, the type of beetle used in the study (supplied)

Scientists have figured out how to take complete command of an insect's legs, exerting such fine control they can change not just how fast it walks and in what direction, but also its gait.

In the study, descriptively titled Insect-computer hybrid legged robot with user-adjustable speed, step length and walking gait, scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore describe how they got an African beetle to do their bidding.

First they immersed two-month old African beetles in alcohol for 12 hours, before cutting them open and sticking electrodes into their leg muscles.

This gave the researchers the ability to control each leg individually. Previous insect-control studies had established influence over direction, but this is the first time an insect's speed and gait have also been under human control.

But why? A number of reasons are given in the paper, published in Journal of The Royal Society Interface.

"Compared to existing insect-computers hybrid robots which the control of walking speed and gait is impossible, the ability of monitoring the robot's walking speed and walking gait would enable it to complete more complicated tasks," the authors state.

It's hoped one day controllable insect–computer hybrids could assist in search-and-rescue operations.