Acid-spewing beetles inspire new defense tactic for ATMs

A bank customer is seen at an ATM machine in Athens, Greece, June 13, 2012. Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

Sometimes going back to nature is the best way to outsmart criminals.

Researchers in Switzerland have turned to the insect world, specifically the acid-spewing bombardier beetle, to come up with a way to fend off ATM thieves.

The shiny blue-green bombardier beetle has one of nature's most aggressive chemical defense systems. It releases a spray that's powerful enough to kill ants when it's threatened.

It works by storing two different chemicals separately in its abdomen. When the beetle feels threatened, it sparks a process that mixes the two in a reaction chamber in its abdomen, forming a toxic compound that can be sprayed on predators.

"When you see how elegantly nature solves problems, you realise how deadlocked the world of technology often is," Wendelin Jan Stark, a professor from the ETH Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences said in a news release.

Inspired by the bombardier beetle's defense system, Stark's team developed an anti-vandalism mechanism for ATMs using several layers of plastic. If the plastic's surface is damaged, it will release hot foam aimed at the vandal's face.

"This could be used anywhere you find things that shouldn't be touched," said Stark.

The technology also provides a cost effective deterrent since it does not need electricity to operate. The mechanism is triggered when the plastic layers filled with chemicals are pressed together; then they create a reaction that sprays the acid.

The ETH researchers' findings were published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

Watch the bombardier beetle in action in this video:

  • Leezel Tanglao

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