They aren't your typical first responders. But if researchers at North Carolina State University have their way, cockroaches equipped with tiny electronic backpacks may soon help search for earthquake survivors and take on other dangerous jobs where only they can crawl.
According to a recently released research paper, engineers have successfully tested a biobot device strapped to the top of a Madagascar hissing cockroach. Using a cheap, lightweight microchip, as well as a wireless transceiver, the team was able to "steer" steer the roach along a curving line drawn on the floor.
Eventually, the researcher hope to attach miniature cameras and sensors to the bugs, allowing them to monitor what's going on in the buildings and other tight spaces.
"Our aim was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small spaces," study co-author Dr. Alper Bozkurt, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university, said in a written statment. "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."
"The cerci are sensory organs on the roach’s abdomen, which are normally used to detect movement in the air that could indicate a predator is approaching – causing the roach to scurry away. But the researchers use the wires attached to the cerci to spur the roach into motion. The roach thinks something is sneaking up behind it and moves forward.
The wires attached to the antennae serve as electronic reins, injecting small charges into the roach’s neural tissue. The charges trick the roach into thinking that the antennae are in contact with a physical barrier, which effectively steers them in the opposite direction."
Bozkurt said scientists opted to equip real cockroaches with the equipment rather than design same-size robots because, "building small-scale robots that can perform in such uncertain, dynamic conditions is enormously difficult."