Locusts: Not just for stripping crops anymore

bomb sniffing locusts

Technophobes worry about a world dominated by robots bent on enslaving humans. Others are vexed by the thought of a society corrupted by an over-reliance on technology that leaves humans unable to function on their own. I say: Beware the cyborg insects!

Lest one think that last bit is just another of this blog’s idiotic rants (which, for the uninitiated, it is), consider what’s being attempted at Washington University in St. Louis:

Researchers are trying to take locusts, the same insects that love to strip the fields of already-starving populations, and marry their keen sense of smell with nanotechnology in a bid to create living bomb detectors.

A “heat-generating tattoo on the wings of the insects can allow the team to control where they fly, while a small computer attached to its body will capture their neural signals,” according to Red Orbit. “The computer will then decode the signals as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ message, which will be sent back to the team. There, it will cause a red or green LED to light up, signaling either that a bomb is present or that it is not.”

While relying on an insect over a bomb-sniffing drone or dog might seem fanciful, the bottom line, according to team leader Baranidharan Raman, is that simpler is better.

Dogs have one of the most powerful senses of smell amongst animals, but require years of training – and a great deal of expense; locusts have a strong sense of smell, and can be directed much more simply, according to Red Orbit. Plus, the locust system might perform better than man-made ones.

“It took only a few hundred milliseconds for the locust’s brain to begin tracking a novel odor introduced in its surroundings,” Raman told the BBC. “The locusts are processing chemical cues in an extremely rapid fashion.

“Even the state-of-the-art miniaturized chemical sensing devices have a handful of sensors. On the other hand, if you look at the insect antennae, where their chemical sensors are located, there are several hundreds of thousands of sensors and of a variety of types,” he added.

And, let’s face it, it’s unlikely anyone’s going to get attached to “Elijah,” the bomb-sniffing locust, making him considerably more expendable than a police squad’s bomb dog or an expensive robot.

These “cyborg” locusts are currently in their early phase of testing, but Raman believes that the technology could become available within two years.

Raman’s team recently received a grant of $750,000 from the US Office of Naval Research for his project.

That will either move the project considerably along or, if they’re already in the advanced stages, procure a whole mess of locusts.

(A researcher holds a locust that has sensors implanted in its brain to decode neural activity. Photo courtesy of Baranidharan Raman, Washington University, St. Louis.)

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A typical summer day in United Kingdom air space

This mesmerizing video shows air traffic during a 24-hour period in the United Kingdom during a typical summer day.

Created by NATS, the UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services, the data visualization shows air traffic coming into, going out of and flying across the UK on a typical summer day.

It was created using real data from 7,000 flights from a day this past June as recorded by radar and air traffic-management systems.

Activity is shown at 800 times faster than real time, according to NATS.

The time runs from midnight to midnight and shows the arrival of early morning traffic coming across the Atlantic in the early hours, the build up through the day and then tapers off into the night before the pattern repeats.

The noticeable difference in flight speeds is likely due to varying speeds of commercial and military aircraft.

(Viewing this in full-screen mode is particularly cool.)

(HT: Carpe Diem)

Audi’s R18 hybrid: Beautiful and spectacular

WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps 2014

While there’s likely nowhere on Earth where the above Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro is street legal – except perhaps Antarctica, which isn’t known for its road system – one can dream of getting behind the wheel of this stunning vehicle and opening it up.

That is, until one comes across an older couple in a late-model Buick chugging along in the fast lane at 48 miles an hour.

The Audi R18, the first hybrid race car to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, is one of the favorites of this year’s race, not surprisingly.

The car possesses an unusual combination: It features a conventionally powered rear axle together with an electrically powered front axle. The system located in the front of the car contains two drive shafts and a motor generator unit, together with planetary gearbox, which retrieves its own energy from the electric flywheel accumulator mounted alongside the driver in the cockpit, according to Audi.

The energy is stored during deceleration, and then transferred to a flywheel that can shoot it back to the front axle for added acceleration.

In the process, the front wheels drive the motor generator unit. This accelerates a carbon-fiber flywheel, which runs in a high vacuum. Once the car takes a corner and the driver accelerates, the system delivers the energy to the front axle – but only above a speed of 75 mph, the manufacturer added.

The 3.7-litre V6 engine can muster 510 horsepower and speeds of more than 185 miles per hour.

As for price, if you have to ask, well, you know the rest …

Photographer captures meteor, aurora borealis

meteor through aurora borealisThe above spectacular image of a meteor streaking through the green glow of the aurora borealis was captured last Friday by Shannon Bileski, a Canadian photographer.

Bileski, who operates Signature Exposures, snapped the photo at Patricia Beach, along Manitoba’s Balsam Bay in Lake Winnipeg.

Bileski was at the beach attempting to photograph the northern lights with others from a photography club and an astronomy club when she caught the rare image.

The aurora borealis was on and off all night, but at 11:10 p.m., just as everyone else was packing up their camera gear, the green glow in the sky intensified, according to PetaPixel.

“Suddenly, during one of the eight-second exposures, there was an intense streak of light in the sky and bright green flashes,” the website added. “It was a meteor that had broken up in the atmosphere, and Bileski captured the whole event as the photo above.”

Bileski described the conditions, timing and good fortune in capturing the image as “Amazing.”

(HT: Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid)

Brazilian surfer catches, rides 100-foot wave

Carlos Burle rides 100 foot wave

A Brazilian surfer, taking advantage of conditions created by a violent storm that ravaged Europe, caught and rode a wave estimated to have been a staggering 100 feet high earlier this week.

Carlos Burle, 45, took on the monster swell Monday at Praia do Norte, near the fishing village of Nazare, Portugal.

It is believed to be the biggest wave ever ridden, and easily tops the previous record, a 78-foot wave ridden by Hawaiian Garrett McNamara at the same location in 2011.

The day had plenty of excitement: Earlier Burle was surfing with fellow Brazilian Maya Gabeira when she was knocked unconscious by the strong waves and nearly drowned.

Gabeira was dragged onto shore and given medical attention on the beach before being taken to hospital. She sustained a broken ankle, according to The Telegraph.

“It was luck. We never know when we will be catching the wave. I still hadn’t surfed any wave and everyone had already had their rides. Maya almost died,” Burle told Surfer Today. “For me, it was a big adrenaline moment to get back there after what happened.”

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Prepare for invasion of 17-year cicadas

brood II cicadas

After nearly two decades underground, billions of Brood II cicadas are expected to swarm the US East Coast in the coming two months.

Between mid-April and late May, the insects will emerge from the ground in an area ranging from New York to North Carolina, inhabiting trees for four to six weeks and looking for mates.

To get an idea of just how many cicadas will tunnel to the surface after being in the ground since 1996, residents in areas where this year’s “invasion” is forecast can expect as many as 1.5 millions of cicadas per square mile.

Called Brood II cicadas, they are periodic cicadas that hatch every 17 years.  Periodical cicadas are unique in their combination of long, prime-numbered life cycles – emerging after either 13 or 17 years – precisely timed mass emergences, and active and vocal choruses, according to the website www.magicicada.org.

Magicicada is the genus of the 13-year and 17-year periodical cicadas of eastern North America.

“Periodical cicadas are found only in eastern North America. There are seven species — four with 13-year life cycles and three with 17-year cycles. The three 17-year species are generally northern in distribution, while the 13-year species are generally southern and Midwestern,” the website added.

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