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Scientists Get Moths to Drive Robotic Vehicle

It seems impossible for an insect to maneuver a vehicle, but researchers at the University of Tokyo were able to have 14 different male silk moths drive a robotic vehicle. 

All moths drove the vehicle to the intended target. 

The study took place in Dr. Noriyasu Ando's lab. 

But it wasn't as miraculous as it seems, because Ando tempted the moths to move by giving them a whiff of female moth pheromones. 

The "engine" was a large roller ball that is similar to the ball of a computer mouse. The moths danced on the ball and when they did, it moved the vehicle. 

The moths were obviously unaware that they were driving, and were only attempting to follow what they thought was a female moth.

Dr. Ando had placed the scent of a female moth at the end of a tube, turned on a small fan and blew the scent at the male moth.

The male moth then became extremely interested in the scent, and moved his legs to head to the source. Sensors of the vehicle detected the moths' steps and turned them into electrical signals that drove the motors.

Blogger Sebastian Anthony explained, "In all, fourteen male silk moths were tested, and they all showed a scary aptitude for steering a robot. In the tests, the moths had to guide the robot toward a source of female sex pheromone. The researchers even introduced a turning bias - where one of the robot's motors is stronger than the other, causing it to veer to one side - and yet the moths still reached the target."

Clearly, the moths were on a mission to mate.

And that's exactly what Dr. Ando wanted them to do. The study's goal was to better understand the moth's antennae and sensory system, especially when they are in mating mode. When the insects want to mate, they act on it extremely fast, faster than any machine. 

Ando wanted to figure out how he could make robots act just as quickly, as it could provide speedy help in case of an emergency, like when there is a chemical leak or a biological weapon.

Sources: NPR, Extreme Tech


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