Pawlenty wrong on recount, Franken right on cyborg bugs



Gov. Tim Pawlenty got it wrong last week when he talked about Minnesota’s U.S. Senate recount, but the winner of that recount got it right when talking yesterday on another topic: cyborg bugs. Franken made this statement during a speech in Washington, D.C.:

Several years ago – I can’t remember exactly when, I think it was the mid- to late-’90s, I went and gave a speech to the folks at DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. And I remember asking what cool things they were working on. And later a guy came up to me and took me aside and told me he was working on an unmanned aerial vehicle the size of an insect. I was really excited about that.

Evidently that hasn’t happened. They didn’t make the bug-sized unmanned aerial vehicle work.

But they did create the ARPA-net 40 years ago. And the ARPA-net grew into the internet, which is almost as cool as a bug-sized unmanned aerial vehicle with a camera and a Hellfire missile on it.

Hmm … he “can’t remember exactly when”? Even in his prepared remarks (“pretty sure it didn’t happen”) Franken sounded iffy on this fly thing, like he was inviting a fact check.

Turns out he’s right: DARPA’s hybrid insect microelectromechanical systems (HI-MEMS) program has not so far achieved its dream:

To be considered successful, the final HI-MEMS cybernetic bug must fly 100 meters from a starting point and then be steered into a controlled landing within 5 meters of a specified end point. On landing, the insect must stay in place.

Jeff Goldblum as "The Fly"

Jeff Goldblum as “The Fly”

But military research sometimes has beneficial civilian side-effects (for example, DARPA’s role in pioneering the internet – now threatened, Franken says, unless Congress enacts net neutrality legislation).

Cyborg bugs may not yet be delivering tiny payloads to enemy targets, but in the course of trying scientists have developed nifty little radios you could implant in a moth.

One thing holding back full implementation: Moths don’t live long enough to make it worth it.

Here’s video of Franken, with his insightful insect comment at the 3:23 mark:

And, without comment, President Obama: