Surveillance drones and other potential offenders against personal privacy and the 4th Amendment have already received some attention here, but the gadgeteers at DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) have upped the ante yet again:

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The U.S. government is eyeing the idea of turning bugs – genuine live creepy-crawlies – into spies, thanks to the work of micro researchers at the University of Michigan.

According to results published in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, Professor Khalil Najafi, chairman of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan, and doctoral student Erkan Aktakka are finding ways to harvest energy from insects.

The stated intention is to use insects as first responders for disasters, but the technology also is likely to usher in a new era for intelligence gathering.

Researchers have found insects get their energy from the food they eat and then use that energy to fly. In the process, some of the energy is wasted. The Michigan research team has exploited the wasted energy by attaching tiny electrical generators to the wings of the insect. The energy harvested could be further increased by using tiny solar cells on the tops of the wings. — WND, December 3, 2011

As we’ve said before, technology is ethically neutral; it’s the intentions of the users and how they employ it that determine whether or not this is a good thing.

DARPA is taking it one step further: growing cyborgs. A cyborg (portmanteau term for “CYBernetic ORGanism”) is a partly living and partly mechanical creature:

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DARPA researchers are inserting computer chips into moth pupae – the intermediate stage between a caterpillar and a flying adult – and hatching them into healthy “cyborg moths.”

The Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) project aims to create literal flying cameras – insects whose nerves have grown into the implanted microprocessor so that operators can control them in flight. This would eliminate implanting probes into the insect, making for a more stable connection. — WND, ibid.

The CIA and the military can definitely find uses for HI-MEMS robotic insect spy drones, but they’ll always have a requirement for surveillance systems that can fly faster than 30 miles an hour and not get swallowed by a bird.

The next time you swat a fly, though, you should take a closer look: There might be a microchip stuck to your swatter.