recommended reading

Good for science, bad for your nightmares: Moths that drive robots


A group of silkworm moths, coached by researchers at the University of Tokyo, just took a driving test. Instead of their moms' old minivans, however, they were given another machine: a robot. 

The idea of all this wasn't so much to test the robomoths' driving capabilities -- moths are notoriously aggressive drivers, after all, and their tendency to leave their turn signals on for miles on end is well-documented -- but rather to test the creatures' ingrained tracking behaviors. The idea from there was to (potentially) apply those natural impulses to man-made robots. Moths track smells effortlessly; for a robot, though, that kind of impulse is difficult to engineer. But an autonomous device that is capable of sensing smells and then tracking them to their sources -- say, to identify environmental spills and leaks -- could prove hugely valuable.

So researchers made a makeshift robot with a styrofoam ball that functions, effectively, like a trackball mouse. They then attached moths to the device (this was, for the moths, the ostensibly the worst part of the test), converting the robot into a comically large entomological exoskeleton. 

The moths were then let loose.

Their destination? Lady moths. Or, in this case, a female sex pheromone that acted as a fairly cruel simulation of an actual lady moth -- a smell whose source was located at the opposite end of a simple obstacle course. As the moth walked toward the pheromone, the foam ball rolled accordingly, and sensors -- attached to the robot's drive motors -- fired off signals according to those movements.

(Image via jctabb/

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.