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The World Wide Weird

English: Microchips (EPROM memory) with a tran...
English: Microchips (EPROM memory) with a transparent window, showing the integrated circuit inside. Uploaded by Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Who would have thought when Robert Noyce invented and patented the silicon based integrated circuit way back in 1959 that the world would forever more be changed.  While the initial uses for the computer chip were initially limited to big business and military applications, within a dozen years, the computer revolution would enter consumer electronics with the founding of Apple Computer.  Since then the integrated circuit has become part of virtually every consumer electronic gadget from cellphones and televisions to the cars we drive.  Just when you think that just about every possible application has been thought up, some enterprising entrepreneur comes up with another use for the computer chip.  While there are a number of useful creations such as medical prosthetics that have been known to improve the quality of life for many, what I want to bring to you today are the “out there” applications that seem to be some sort of technological outgrowth of the lunatic fringe.

Doubley Delicious Drones

While aerial drones are nothing new, there are at least two engineers are planning on using them to make the term “to go” mean entirely something new.  The Burrito Bomber is the brainchild of Yoni De Beule and John Bolles.  The pair used a 3-D printer to create their own custom-made bomber that is designed to carry and air drop burritos via parachute.  (I am not making this up.)  The aircraft is directed to its destination via GPS and can be operated either autonomously or via remote control.  
What’s even more alarming about this development is that the Burrito Bomber isn’t the only flying fast food to hit the scene.  In a much publicized YouTube video, Domino’s Pizza demonstrated the DomiCopter making an aerial pizza delivery in the UK.

Sadly, anyone hoping for an aerial munchies fix will have to keep hoping for a while. The Burrito Bomber is currently just a prototype.  Current Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibit commercial use of unmanned aircraft, but that could change.  "Pending regulations from the FAA in 2015, we'll be able to drop a burrito to a neighborhood near you," says Boiles.


This might not be the best segway in the world, going from food to bugs, but here is another outlandish example of what can be done with a computer chip and way too much time on your hands.  While many people consider cockroaches a nuisance that should be eradicated at all cost there are at least two PhDs that think otherwise.   

Backyard Brains co-founders Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo both have doctorates in neural engineering.  Where most of their colleagues use their education to discover ways to connect human beings to electronic devices such as prosthetic limbs, cochlear implants and the like, Gage and Marzullo decided to pursue an entirely different career path.  They decided to form a company dedicated to inspiring scientific curiosity.

The company, established in 2009, sells low-cost kits to turn any and all interested amateurs into neuroscientists. (The company's bread-and-butter product is the SpikerBox, an electrophysiological contraption that allows you to record the brains of insects in real time.) And the RoboRoach, according to the creators, employs the same neuraltechnology used in treatments for Parkinson's as well as the make-up in cochlear implants. Now, to be clear, the RoboRoach is not the answer to the diseases; but it's meant to be a font of inspiration.

I won’t tell you what is required to robotize a roach, since it makes me queasy just to think about it.  But fret not, because the guys from Backyard Brains have created a step-by-step video that will take you through the medical procedure should you be so inclined. Can you say ewwww?”

BugBots to the Rescue

If robotic Roaches weren’t weird enough, there are several universities currently pursuing insect inspired robots that scuttle, slither and fly.  

In a team led by graduate students Kevin Ma and Pakpong Chirarattananon, Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory has created tiny, housefly-sized robots for the purpose of studying insect flight.  Small flying insects like flies are capable of extremely agile maneuvers, such as dodging out of the way of an incoming fly swatter, or landing on flowers and grass that are moving in the wind — making their flight difficult to replicate in a laboratory condition. But by using some unconventional approaches to propulsion, manufacturing and actuation, the Harvard Microbiotics team — after a decade's work — has been able to create a robot that can hover on the spot, take off vertically and steer. They're called RoboBees.
Currently used as a flight demonstration system because the RoboBees need to be tethered to an off-board power source, the design team looks forward to the day when their robotic insects can take wing on their own for everything from crop pollination to search and rescue missions. 
Not to be outdone, other researchers at  Harvard Microrobotics have come up with the Harvard Ambulatory Micro Robot, otherwise known as the HAMR.  Utilizing the same fabrication process used to create the RoboBee, the HAMR weighs in at just 1.3 grams and while they can’t fly, they can scuttle along at 37 centimeters per second.  While the developers of the HAMR have as of yet to come up with an actual use for the tiny robots, the researchers claim that they are cool to have around.

What’s Next?

While a quick search of Google and Kickstarter is a good way to get a bead on the far out uses of the microchip, only time and imagination will show what wondrous and wacky inventions will be spawned next from a sliver of silicon.  (Personally, I think there is soon going to be a pressing need for  an autonomous flyswatter that is designed to combat the coming onslaught of bugbots.)   

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Since 1995, Carl Weiss has been helping clients succeed online.  He owns and operates several online marketing businesses, including Working the Web to Win and Jacksonville Video Production. He also co-hosts the weekly radio show, "Working the Web to Win," every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on

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