Why Are Scientists Building Cyborg Cockroaches?

A crazy idea which might just save your life!

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© 2017 North Carolina State University

As time goes on, robots are getting smaller and smarter, continuously able to do every more tasks. Within this explosion in robotics technology, some of the most successful designs are those which model themselves of nature, especially insects. From dragonfly-like drones to spider-legged military vehicles, the most successful form facts are those which have evolved over millions of years.

This being said, why spend millions designing, building and programming a wholly new robot, when you can just hijack that which nature has already provided. An inventive team from the North Carolina State University is working on just that - they have developed a way to turn a common pest (a cockroach) into a remote controlled cyborg insect able to carry out important and dangerous work.

Through the use of an implanted neural interface the team has managed to build a cockroach which can be prompted to turn in different directions using sound. This enables a form of rudimentary control over the animal. In addition to this, the cyborg cockroaches can be programmed to hone in on a certain sound and move towards its origin. Finally, the researchers can use sounds to build ‘invisible walls’ which can contain the creatures within a given space.

The researchers hope that their technology will eventually be used to help locate survivors of natural disasters:

“The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter – like people calling for help – from sounds that don’t matter – like a leaking pipe,” Bozkurt says. “Once we’ve identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero in on where those sounds are coming from.”

Due to the small size of the cockroaches, they would be ideal for use after disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. In the wake of these events people are often trapped within small spaces of rubble, and are only reachable through specialist equipment. For people in these situations, the cockroaches could turn out to be a life-saver.