A team of researchers is currently investigating the biological abilities of locusts to determine if they could act as natural drones or as bomb sniffing animals. If the research succeeds, these animals can help in homeland security missions.

Locusts are a form of grasshoppers that possess two phases, their solitary phase, and their swarming phase. When these animals are in their solitary phase, they don’t pose a threat to agriculture or environment. Yet, when their brains activate their social compound, they gather up and become a large population of millions migrating and damaging crops.

Locusts natural drones
Scientists believe they can insert a chip into locusts so they can be used as natural drones or bomb sniffing animals. Credit: Theconversation.com

These animals also have an excellent sense of odor. This is why a research team from the Washington University in St. Luis has received a $750,000, three-year grant, to investigate the possibilities of turning these animals in bomb-detecting drones.

Baranidharan Raman lead researcher and associate professor specialized in biomedical engineering, would try to develop a hybrid nose for the animal to help them smell and detect explosives in sensitive areas.

“Why reinvent the wheel? Why not take advantage of their biological solution. That is the philosophy here. Even the state-of-the- art miniaturized chemical sensing devices have a handful of sensors,” said Raman in a press release.

The research team hopes to develop a way to turn the animal’s sensitive antenna into a human-resource to detect bombs and serve as a drone to determine dangerous zones. In order to accomplish this, the team is studying the insect’s brain activity.

The main objective is to create a chip that will be inserted into the insect’s brain to measure its brain activity. If the locust seems to detect something, authorities will be reported to take hands in the matter.

However, one of the biggest problems is developing a chip that transmits information to authorities when the insect is flying freely in the environment. Also, the team is working on a solution to have the animal travel or move to the desired location, when on the loose.

The team is formed by Raman, Srikanth Singamaneni, a materials science professor, and Shantanu Chakrabartty, an engineering and computer science professor, who will be in charge of designing the chip for the insect.

Recent reports inform Chakrabartty is designing a so-called “tattoo” for the animal, which will be made of biocompatible silk located at the animal’s wings. So the locust can move freely but, at the same time, be controlled by researchers and authorities.

The desired invention could help authorities, local governments and researchers detect exploding material in zones where drones and sniffing canines can’t, as well as traveling and squeezing into small locations were other animals or humans can’t.

The research team has three years to study and create this technology for the locusts. Raman has had previous studies of the insect and is familiar with its nature.

Source: Nature World News