secrecy {fragments}

~ musings on secrecy ~

Insect Cyborgs & HI-MEMS/MAVS/NAVS

Under the Freedom of Information Act, in July 2015 I requested the following information from DARPA:

DARPA’s role in the development and application of Hybrid Insect Microelectromechanical Systems and microelectromechanical (HI-MEMS) systems. My request also includes release of records on the following subjects:

• Bioelectronic neuromuscular interfaces for insect cyborg flight control
• The Controlled Biological and Biomimetic Systems Program
• Insect-based MAVS/NAVS (Micro and Nano Air Vehicles)
• Insect cyborgs
• Microfluidic control of insect locomotor activity
• Radio-frequency system for neural flight control
• The use of Hybrid Insect Microelectromechanical Systems and microelectromechanical (MEMS) specifically related to bees

DARPA released 88 pages, including one report by Amit Lal titled “ Microsystems, Scaling, and Integration” found in DTIC.  Page 70 of the .pdf contains the header “Key Experiments in 1940s,” which is suggestive of a deepening interest – perhaps even by ARPA, the predecessor of DARPA – in creating “technology to reliably integrate microsystems payloads on insects to enable insect cyborgs” (p. 68).  Reading these documents can’t help but bring up those perennial ethical questions regarding human use and exploitation of animals in war, combat, and surveillance. Here’s the 88 page doc released under FOIA: 15-f-1559-case-documents.

Below is a short bib of materials that helped me grasp the finer points of this Promethean technology; I also included several items that sparked my interest in cyborgs and domination a while back, such as Donna Haraway’s complex work and Chris Hables Gray Cyborg Citizen (Chris was a member of my doc committee). Also included is a brand spanking new article by Hutson on the subject of insect cyborgs.

I’ll leave readers with a quote from Adam Dodd (2014) that sums up the current reality of projects involving HI-MEMS:

DARPA has no problem calling a cyborg a cyborg; indeed, the agency is not known for downplaying its own science fictional aspirations — quite the opposite, DARPA’S use of the term anchors my own: I am not discussing the cyborg as a material abstraction, as “a condensed figuration of both material reality and feminist/popular imagination… as an entry point into the contemporary turn to ontological issues within feminist theory and technoscience studies” (Âsberg, 2010, p. 1), though such discussions are not without utility. I am discussing, critiquing, and indeed reporting on, the cyborg as a material entity that exists in the here and now. (p. 162)


A Short Bib

Alberts, David, and Papp, Daniel S. (eds.). (2001). Information Age Anthology: The Information Age Military. Volume III. Center for Advanced Concepts and Technology, Advanced Concepts, Technologies, and Information Strategies Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University: Washington, DC.

Armstrong, Robert, Drapeau, Mark D., Loeb, Cheryl A., and Valdes, James J. (eds.). (2010). Bio-Inspired Innovation and National Security. Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University Press: Washington, DC. 

Chung, Aram J., and David Erickson. (2008). Microfluidic Control of Insect Locomotor Activity. In Proceedings of IMECE 2008 ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition, October 31-November 6, 2008, Boston  (pp. 949-952).  (google scholar)

Delaney, Lois. (2011). Military Applications of Apiculture: The (Other) Nature of War. Masters of Military Studies Research Paper, Marine Corps University. ADA600636.

Dodd, Adam. (2014). The Trouble with Insect Cyborgs. Society & Animals 22, no. 2: 153-173. (google scholar)

Gray, Chris Hables. (2000). Cyborg Citizen: Politics in the Posthuman Age. New York: Routledge.

Hundley, Richard O., and Eugene C. Gritton. (1994). Future Technology-Driven Revolutions in Military Operations. Results of a Workshop. RAND-DB-110-ARPA.

Hutson, Matthew. (2016, November). Even Bugs Will Be Bugged. The Atlantic.

Kick, Russ. (2016, August 22). The Navy’s Remote-Controlled Sharks. The Memory Hole 2.

Kladitis, Paul E. (2010). How Small Is Too Small? Technology into 2035. Wright  Flyer Paper No. 46. Air University, Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB.

Lal, Amit. Microsystems, Scaling, and Integration (Briefing charts). (2007). DARPA Microsystems Technology Symposium, San Jose, California on March 5-7. ADA 503730. (Included in the above FOIA release and DTIC).

U.S. Department of Defense. (2007). Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2007-2032. ADA475002.


Black Mirror 3 (BM3) ep. 6 titled “Hated in the Nation” is pure synchronicity in terms of my FOIA post. The opening segment of this episode is a chilling announcement of extinction of the Siberian Crane, but also showed the dystopian replacement for honeybees: ATIs or autonomous cyborg bees, who replicate, create hives, and operate in the natural world via pattern recognition. The solar-fueled bees were activated “for the second summer” to pollinate in BM3’s futuretechnoworld. In a twist I didn’t see coming, the cyborg bees are dual use technology (tech that has civilian as well as military and/or national security applications). You can read more about the episode 6 at Thrillist as well as catch a glimpse at the cyborg pollinators. It’s important to note that a DARPA document included in the FOIA release (if I’m interpreting the doc correctly) excluded bees as “insects too unpredictable (temperature, wind, humidity, mating, feeding, etc.)” (p.56) .

See the 2016 interview with Eye in the Sky director Gavin Hood on the use of nano hummingbirds and the micro RPA/M.A.V. (Microaerial Vehicle) beetle depicted in the film.

As bee populations dwindle, robot bees may pick up some of their pollination slack (Khan, Los Angeles Times 2017): “Scientists in Japan say they’ve managed to turn an unassuming drone into a remote-controlled pollinator by attaching horsehairs coated with a special, sticky gel to its underbelly.”

And now the bee drone prototype.
Photo of the “robotic flower pollinator”courtesy of CNN (2/15/2017).



And “rise of the robot pollinators” on The Salt (March 3, 2017).


Written by S.

October 23, 2016 at 12:55 am