Top 5 Sci-fi Weapons that Might Actually Happen

Insect Cyborgs
Do you suppose that moth is spying on Sir David Attenborough?
Do you suppose that moth is spying on Sir David Attenborough?
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

It's an old idea to train animals for use in war. We've trained bees as bomb-sniffers and used dolphins to patrol our ports [source: Vergano]. The weaponized insects of "Aeon Flux" may be a ways off, but making animals into machines is already a reality. Working under the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), researchers have made real moths and beetles into remote-controlled robo-bugs. In the future, the insects may carry cameras or chemical sensors into the field.

The engineering starts when the bugs are larvae. At this time, you can implant wires into the bugs, and their bodies grow healthily around them. Their nerves, muscles and brains intertwine electrically with the implants [source: Bozkurt].

That intermingling helps in bug control because moths and beetles operate on reflexes [source: Bozkurt]. Because entomologists know which patterns to send to which nerves to trigger a behavior, they can use electrodes to hijack the bugs. For example, stimulating the neck muscles makes it circle left or right. By implanting a tiny radio receiver on the moth's back, researchers can control it wirelessly from a joystick [source: Bozkurt].

In mechanizing moths, researchers encountered the hilarities you'd expect. Tobacco moths, the kind used in the experiments, must shiver for five minutes to warm their flight muscles before they fly. Not wanting to wait, researchers implanted heaters to warm the muscles [source: Bozkurt]. And when carrying so much metal, the moths can't fly their normal range of kilometers without getting exhausted. Not to worry. The researchers hung the moths from helium balloons [source: Bozkurt]. For obvious reasons, balloons wouldn't work for spying missions. You can watch a video of the moths here.

For more superpower or sci-fi articles you might like, keep reading.

Related Articles


  • Bozkurt A., Gilmour R, Lal A. "Balloon Assisted Flight of Radio Controlled Insect Biobots." 2009. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering. Vol 56, no. 9.
  • Bozkurt, A., A. Lal and R. Gilmour. "Electrical Endogenous Heating of Insect Muscles for Flight Control." 30th International Conference of IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. 2008. (11/5/2009)
  • Bozkurt, A., A. Lal and R. Gilmour. "Radio Control of Insects for Biobotic Domestication." IEEE Neural Engineering Conference. 2009. (11/5/2009)
  • Jewell, Mark. "Robotic Suit Could Usher In Super Solider Era." May 15, 2008. (11/5/2009)
  • Morrison, David. "FAQs About NEO Impacts." September 2004. (11/5/2009)
  • Morrison, David. "Introduction." September 2004. (11/5/2009)
  • Nave, C.R. "Hafele and Keating Experiment." HyperPhysics. 2000. (11/12/2009)
  • Plait, Phil. "The Astronomy of Armageddon." December 28, 2008. (11/5/2009)
  • Rudnyk, Marian E. "Asteroid." World Book Online Reference Center. 2005. (11/11/2009)
  • Vergano, Dan. "Real Spying Squirrels, Dolphins Helped Inspire 'G-Force.'" USA Today. July 27, 2009. (11/5/2009)
  • Yeomans, Donald K. "Comet." World Book Online Reference Center. 2005. (11/11/2009)
  • Yeomans, Donald K. et al. "Deflecting a Hazardous Near-Earth Object." 1st IAA Planetary Defense Conference: Protecting Earth from Asteroids. April 27-30, 2009.


What Are 'Low-yield' Nuclear Weapons?

What Are 'Low-yield' Nuclear Weapons?

Is there such a thing as a usable nuclear weapon? HowStuffWorks looks at the science.

More to Explore