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.