When you write for Popular Science, it’s easy to become desensitized to wild and crazy future tech. To wit: When I first heard that Darpa wanted to develop cyborg insects to carry surveillance equipment, I thought “ok, cyborg insect spies are pretty cool, but not blowing me away.”

Then today, Cornell researchers working on the program unveiled a prototype transmitter for the cyborg bugs that runs on radioactive isotopes. Nuclear powered cyborg insect spies? Ok, now you have my attention.

While the bugs can fly under their own power, any electronics added to the lil’ sentry for keeping in contact with HQ or other cyborg drones in the swarm need some kind of external power. And a radioactive isotope working as a nuclear battery does the trick perfectly. The isotope in question is Nickle-23, a barely radioactive isotope that doesn’t emit enough radiation to harm a human. However, even slight beta-particle emissions are powerful enough to fuel the on board electronics of our arthropod cyborgs for up to 100 years.

For fun, let’s see that cyborg moth flight test from September one more time, shall we?

Right now, the nuclear-powered electronics only include a 5-milliwatt RFID transmitter. But eventually, the cyborgs will carry a full suite of sensors, and hopefully, since we are talking about nuclear powered cyborg insects going to war, some kind of death ray.

IEEE Spectrum