For years, science fiction has been giving us glimpses of a future where cybernetically-enhanced insects have become tiny secret agents… Like the roboroach from The Fifth Element. Those cyborg bug fantasies are now becoming a reality.You may even recall researchers at NC State using a Kinect to remotely guide a cockroach’s movements. Now, a team has created a cyborg dragonfly that can be flown like a drone. Biomedical engineer Jesse J. Wheeler said, “DragonflEye is a totally new kind of micro-aerial vehicle that’s smaller, lighter and stealthier than anything else that’s manmade.”It’s a little trickier to turn a flying insect into a cyborg than one that crawls (yes, cockroaches can fly… but the ones we’ve seen modded have lost that ability due to their gear). The weight of the electronics is a real concern, and having to keep the overall weight down raises another major concern. How do you keep those electronics powered?A clunky battery isn’t going to do the trick, so the DragonflEye team turned to tiny solar cells to supply the juice their system needs. In this close-up image, you can see the cell perched on top of the DragonflEye “backpack.”Perhaps the most amazing feature of DragonflEye is its steering system. The researchers genetically modified the dragonfly and inserted a pair of light-sensitive neurons in the insect’s nerve cord. The DragonflEye backpack converts signals from the operator into pulses of light which are piped to those neurons with sub-millimeter precision. Other nearby neurons aren’t affected by the signaling.Right now, DragonflEye only flies in a straight line, but steady progress on the steering system is being made. Once DragonflEye has been perfected, the Draper/Hughes team envisions moving on to other flying insects. One particular cool possibility: putting their backpack on bees to help reverse the tide of colony collapse!Image: Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Stay on target Review: ‘Daemon X Machina’ Has Big Robots, Small Fun on Nintendo SwitchThis Robot Is Equal Parts Lawnmower and Snow Blower
Stay on target Watch: Dolphin Leaps Feet Away From Unsuspecting SurferNASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This Weekend All that glitters is not gold, according to scientists.More than an arts-and-crafts staple or shiny nightmare for festival clean-up crews, the reflective particles are also an ecological hazard.Environmental anthropologist Trisia Farrelly is calling for a ban on the plastic-based flecks, instead championing biodegradable versions made from materials like mica.Farrelly attracted attention over the summer when she spoke to online news aggregate Stuff about the harm caused to marine life by microplastics. In the months since, she’s been quoted by the BBC, New York Times, and National Geographic, among other international sources.The global interest in glitter has the scientist slightly baffled; the plastic-based product represents a small part of what she believes is a broader problem.“But Christmas is an ideal time to raise awareness about environmentally responsible production and consumption and the problems associated with microplastics,” Farrelly, a social scientist at New Zealand’s Massey University, said in a statement.“And if plastic-based glitter is the vehicle for opening more conversations, then I welcome that,” she added.I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Microplastics(via maryamassimi/Pixabay)The U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration classifies microplastics as less than 5 mm in diameter. They are often found in cosmetics and clothing, as well as certain industrial processes.Primary microplastics are particles deliberately manufactured to be microscopic—i.e. those wee beads in your exfoliating facial scrub. Equally dangerous to aquatic and marine ecosystems are secondary microplastics, which form from the breakdown of larger debris.Somewhere in between is the byproduct of wear and tear: dust from car tires, synthetic textiles, ropes, paint, and waste treatment.Those fragments that don’t end up in every crevice of your body and every corner of the house often find their way into the environment. In particular, the world’s oceans.In some parts of the globe, Farrelly estimates microplastics outnumber plankton by six-to-one. Which is to say: a lot.And while a tiny percentage of plastics are biodegradable (but only under specific environmental conditions), most never go away. Some have sunk to the nethermost part of the seas—the 36,000-foot-deep Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.I’m too shiny, watch me dazzle like a diamond in the rough(via XoMEoX/Wikimedia Commons)Modern glitter, invented by American machinist Henry Ruschmann in 1934, is usually manufactured from plastic—specifically polyethylene terephthalate (PET).Farrelly, from the School of People, Environment, and Planning at Massey’s Manawatū campus, studies the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) found in materials like PET.“There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the toxins released by microplastics, and the additional pollutants absorbed by plastics in aquatic environments—what some marine scientists are now referring to as ‘poison pills’—can bioaccumulate up the food chain with the potential to disrupt the endocrine systems of sea life, and us, when we consume seafood,” she said.But Farrelly doesn’t want to dull anyone’s sparkle: According to the social scientist, there are plenty of non-plastic, environmentally friendly glitter alternatives.Get your guilt-free glam on with products from BioGlitz, Glitterevolution, and Eco Glitter Fun, which boast biodegradable formulas made from renewably sourced and compostable ingredients (mostly plants). Even everyone’s favorite natural cosmetics company Lush has swapped microplastics for synthetic mica and mineral glitter.Consumers, Farrelly believes, are becoming “more environmentally and justice-aware, and are calling for more honest, transparent labelling.”“They want to know what’s in their products and where they come from,” she continued. “Governments, too, need to play their role in ensuring producers are more responsible.”Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.