Autonomous Navigation of Terrestrial Cyborg Insects in Unknown Environments: A Hamonic Cooperation Between Artificial Control Rules and The Insects’ Natural-Born Locomotory Behaviors

Davis (Huu Duoc) Nguyen, PhD
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
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Terrestrial cyborg insects are biohybrid systems that fuse living ambulatory insects and miniature electronic devices into a single entity. While the insect serves as a mobile platform, the electronic device is a control unit that coordinates the insect’s locomotion via electrical stimulation of its sensory systems and simultaneously performs various predetermined tasks, e.g., human detection or wireless communication. These biohybrid systems are commonly discussed as a potential centimeter-scaled candidate for navigations in complex terrain, e.g., post-disaster scenarios, by exploiting the insect’s natural-born robust and skillful locomotory abilities. However, such a beneficial exploitation would not be efficient without suitable artificially designed controllers. Our study finds that while the insects’ natural obstacle-negotiation abilities can help the cyborgs autonomously navigate successfully in unknown terrains filled with simple obstacles (~3 cm height) by only implementing a basic on-off controller, they start conflicting with the controller when the obstacle’s complexity is increased, e.g., wall-like obstacles (~10 cm height), and thus causing failed navigations. The study solves this problem by introducing a predictive feedback controller which foresees and inhibits the insects’ uncooperative behaviors, which conflict with the navigation while retaining those favoring it. In other words, the study attempts to harmonically collaborate the two essential facets of cyborg insects, i.e., the natural behaviors and artificially designed control rules, as how they should be as biohybrid systems. The collaboration, or the predictive feedback controller, proves its efficiency when the cyborgs’ success rate in navigating unknown environments filled with wall-like obstacles rises to more than 90% from less than 30% when using the on-off controller. Moreover, such successful navigation is also demonstrated in a more practical scenario when the cyborgs traverse over a large terrain of 42 m2 filled with randomly positioned broken concrete blocks and cement fragments while attempting to search for lives, thus emphasizing the feasibility and potential use of terrestrial cyborg insects.

Davis is a Research Fellow at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. His current work focuses on developing locomotion control techniques and navigation algorithms for terrestrial insect-machine hybrid systems serving practical applications. He received his bachelor’s degree in mechatronic engineering in 2016 at Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology (HCMUT), Vietnam. He then pursued his Ph.D. at NTU and graduated in 2022. His interests are robotics, insect-machine hybrid systems, and biohybrid systems.