What's the Buzz from DARPA

I swear I’m not making this up.  I read about it in Discover Magazine and confirmed it on the DARPA website Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Yes, DARPA has a website! But we’ll get to that later).

bionic beetles

Researchers at the University of California, Berkley have created a cybernetic beetle (pictured above) that can be controlled by a human operator.  The beetle can be outfitted with, guess what? cameras! and other sensory equipment and can be flown on little bug missions.

DARPA is funding the research through their Hi-Mems program.  Ultimately, the goal is to insert the micro-circuitry into the insect at the pupal or larval stages and allow the circuitry to heal into the insect body as it matures. Different insects can be selected for different purposes.  For instances, beetles, being large, can carry heavey payloads like cameras and such.  Butterflys can travel great distances and can be used for long range missions.  According to DARPA, bees are already being used to sniff out weapons of mass destruction and land-mines.

So let’s get this straight.  What we are working on in secret government labs is bionic insects controlled by the military establishment. What could possibly go wrong!  This is where you insert O Fortuna or some ominous, 70’s B horror flick theme music.

I have to admit that my first response to this was, “that’s really freakin’ cool, man!”  But then the sociologist in me kicked in and cool didn’t exactly make the cut any more.  The first thing that came to mind, because power is my thing, is the implications of such technologies for an already entrenched power establishment.  Surveillance is a technology of power in the social institutional sense as well as the technical, scientific sense. And one thing that we know from the past is that such technologies will be abused. What are the consequences of the development of such a technology?

Next I have to wonder at the tremendous resources dedicated to such work.  According to the Department of Defense, the DARPA budget has steadily increased from $2.6 billion in FY 2008 to $3.2 expected for FY2010. Wait…

…there’s a beetle crawling on my computer screen right now!

…Ok!  Looks normal.  Anyway, let’s face it about the DARPA budget, it’s unclear how much is being reported and how much is not.  Regardless, billions of dollars are going to some very extreme technologies to be applied to military and intelligence purposes.  It makes one wonder what could be done with this kind of initiative and resources that might actually…oh I don’t know…benefit mankind.

Yes, I realize that such technologies can save lives and can be very valuable in defending the country.  I’m not some yahoo who believes that we don’t need a national defense. It’s just hard to hear of professors and researchers scrambling to find grant money to do worth while research while at the same time those doing military research never seem to be at a loss for funds.

Then there’s the paranoia variable.  This innovation was reported in Discover Magazine.  That must mean secretive agencies like the Defense Department, the Pentagon and, yes, DARPA don’t think it’s a big deal that we know about this.  So this begs some further questions. 1. Why don’t they care? 2. Are they trying to tell us that the very bugs that harrangue us could actually be government agents peaking into our affairs? 3. What kind of stuff do they have that they don’t want us to know about?

So now about the DARPA website.  Frankly, it’s not as impressive as I would have assumed. It’s just a standard website from the looks of it.  But spend a little time on there.  Just a little bit.  When you find the projects that they are working (that they are willing to put on their website), and you parse through the techy terminology, the only rational response is…


And these are the toys of the enforcement branch of the power elite.  Makes  one wonder.

In ancient Egypt, the Scarab was a symbol of power.  The beetle rolled the Sun into the sky every morning to bring light to the world. Now the Scarab is being fitted with sensory and surveillance equipment, bringing a different kind of light to a select few.


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