How a remote-controlled cockroach might come to your rescue

A new cyborg roach is the prototype to a search-and-rescue insect that could be dispatched to hunt for survivors in disaster zones.

Expect a national "Thank Your Cockroach" day in the near future.

Scientists at North Carolina State University have invented remote-controlled cockroaches that they expect will be used as search-and-rescue animals, sent to disaster zones to hunt for survivors and relay back information that will help to map the damage.

“Our aim was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small spaces,” said Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at North Carolina State and co-author of the paper, presented at the Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society.

“Ultimately, we think this will allow us to create a mobile web of smart sensors that uses cockroaches to collect and transmit information, such as finding survivors in a building that’s been destroyed by an earthquake,” he said.

To create a cyborg cockroach, scientists embed a chip with a wireless receiver and transmitter onto a Madagascar Hissing Cockroack, making a somewhat endearing-looking little cockroach backpack. That backpack is wired to the cyborg’s antennae and its sensory organs on its abdomen and can trick the hapless animal into believing that it has bumped into a wall and must turn. In simulating walls, the scientists can effectively steer the insect.

Researchers then use Microsoft's motion-sensing Xbox device, Kinect, to guide the animal on a pre-planned route, as well as to track the cyborg insect and make adjustments in its direction as more information is collected about its location, Wired said

Earlier this month, scientists launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the design of cockroaches that schoolchildren can control with their smartphone, sending signals to backpacks affixed to the mastered animals.

In a video of the new Kinect system, a cockroach is instructed to follow a sinusoidal route through a combination of signals to turn first continuously slightly right as it crawls, then left.

For the moment, that’s about all the robo-roach can do. But scientists expect that that basic remote control feat can be put toward sending cockroaches into disaster zones inaccessible to human rescuers, like Gandalf’s eagles dispatched to Mordor. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to