Male Moth Drives Robot, Cruisin' for Ladies

A male silkmoth pilots a small robotic two-wheeled vehicle
University of Tokyo

A team of Japanese scientists has built a tiny robot that is driven by a male silkworm moth to find a female moth’s seductive pheromone smell. The idea is to somehow engineer the same kind of natural mechanism the moth uses and translate that into a device or sensor that could help autonomous robots track hazardous smells or environmental poisons, for example.

The team built a motorized wheeled car that the moth steers with a small trackball, similar to the ones used in a computer mouse. The male silkworm moth was strapped into a driver’s seat. It was chosen because this kind of moth does a mating dance, consisting of a repeating pattern of moves and zigzags. The moth did its dance on top of the trackball, which then translated its movements to follow the path of the pheromone.

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The experiment was published in this week’s edition of the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. Lead author Noriyasu Ando, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, has been working on the project for the past three years. He said the goal is to figure out how an insect can control a machine.

“From biomimetic perspective, researchers expect that a biomimetic autonomous robot based on the insect sensory-motor system to be simple, fast and adaptive to the environments, however, nobody had evaluated that whether the insect-based system could behave adaptively,” Ando said in an e-mail to Discovery News.

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