The U.S. government is eyeing the idea of turning bugs – genuine live creepy-crawlies – into spies, thanks to the work of micro researchers at the University of Michigan.

According to results published in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, Professor Khalil Najafi, chairman of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan, and doctoral student Erkan Aktakka are finding ways to harvest energy from insects.

The stated intention is to use insects as first responders for disasters, but the technology also is likely to usher in a new era for intelligence gathering.

Researchers have found insects get their energy from the food they eat and then use that energy to fly. In the process, some of the energy is wasted. The Michigan research team has exploited the wasted energy by attaching tiny electrical generators to the wings of the insect. The energy harvested could be further increased by using tiny solar cells on the tops of the wings.

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