Pentagon bankrolls new worm

Filed Under: Featured

That headline got your attention, didn't it?

Fortunately - or unfortunately, depending on your opinion of the viability of malware-as-military-ordnance - we're not talking about worm as in virus here.

We're talking about worm as in lumbricus terrestris (or worm as in worm, to you and me).

That's right: a gaggle of researchers from MIT, Harvard and Seoul National University have made international headlines with a technical paper about an earthworm-style robot, apparently bankrolled by DARPA, and published in the IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics.

You're not likely to read the catchily-titled Meshworm: A Peristaltic Soft Robot With Antagonistic Nickel Titanium Coil Actuators - with the paper costing $31 a look, you'd have to be pretty keen on cybernetic peristalsis - but we can at least show you an image here on Naked Security, thanks to MIT's publicity department.

(If still images don't do it for you, MIT has a video of the worm in action. But don't get too excited: the worm peaks at speeds of 0.005 metres per second. Usain Bolt, for what it's worth, is more than 2000 times quicker - though, to be fair, he doesn't have to wriggle along on his belly.)

So far, the worm is powered and controlled externally, so it's not capable of autonomous operation - so no chance yet of hackers hijacking it "in the wild", as it were.

Nevertheless, there's some fun technology in there.

I can't see the manufacturers of wheeled and tracked military vehicles quaking in their commercial boots just yet. But maybe - just maybe - this invention heralds the creation of a robot vacuum cleaner which can get under the couch and doesn't get stymied every time it comes across a corner.

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6 Responses to Pentagon bankrolls new worm

  1. Scott Long · 801 days ago

    Don't doubt that this will be used by the NSA or CIA to spy on us

  2. Spryte · 800 days ago

    Wasn't there an episode of NCIS detailing this project??
    A military think tank project to create android insects...
    http://www.ncisfanwiki.com/page/The+Penelope+Pape...

    Cheers

  3. Polton · 800 days ago

    Outstanding demonstration of using utterly misleading headlines to rook your targeted audience into clicking on an RSS feed link just to get them to your site. The cutesy introductory sentences disclose that you consciously know you are tricking your readers, as if it's a quaint little joke.

    And here's the summary you deliver to the feed:

    "A gaggle of researchers from MIT, Harvard and Seoul National University have made international headlines with a brand-new worm, apparently bankrolled by DARPA. Find out more..."

    So now we don't know if the feed stories have anything to do with the apparent subject and will hesitate in selecting nakedsecurity stories over the daily dozens of other computer security related stories fed to us by others.

    • Paul Ducklin · 785 days ago

      Errrrr...there's no "as if it were a joke" about it. It *is* a joke :-)

      Not sure I am 100% happy about having it called a *quaint* joke, though.

      Anyway, proof once again you can please some of the people some of the time. (Lots of people really liked this story for just the reasons you didn't.)

      Apologies if you felt tricked or rooked...but it is quite funky, wouldn't you say?

  4. Internaut · 800 days ago

    You said.... "...heralds the creation of a robot vacuum cleaner which can get under the couch and doesn't get stymied every time it comes across a corner...."

    The robotic vacuum cleaners have been around for a couple years. They can memorize a room, and if you put something in front of them, or move furniture, they will find their way around it, and remember that, until you move something again. They stand about 3" deep, and 12 - 14" in diameter.

    But, I guess some lazy fishermen will want a self-hooking worm ;)

  5. DoktorThomas™ · 428 days ago

    Ridiculous waste of time, money and talent. The fed.gov needs to have its funds cut off. ©2013

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog