BIOBOTS: cyborg insects to map buildings
2013-10-17 0:00

By Ben Coxworth | GizMag

Living remote-control cockroaches are now a thing. They actually exist. Besides wowing people and sparking ethics debates, however, the cyborg insects may ultimately have some very worthwhile applications. A team led by North Carolina State University’s Dr. Edgar Lobaton has brought one of those applications a step closer to reality, by developing software that would allow "swarms" of the cockroaches to map hazardous environments such as collapsed buildings.

The cockroach-guiding technology, which was also developed at NC State, involves fitting Madagascar hissing cockroaches with "backpacks" containing an inexpensive, lightweight, commercially-available chip, along with a wireless receiver and transmitter, and a microcontroller.

That microcontroller is wired into the cockroach’s antennae and sensory organs known as the cerci. When commands are sent wirelessly by a remote human operator, the controller electrically stimulates one or more of the antennae and/or cerci, dictating the directional movements of the insects.

In the building exploration scenario, a swarm of sensor-wearing remote-control cockroaches or other insects – known collectively as "biobots" – would be released into a damaged structure. Their human operators would give them some time to disperse in a random pattern, and would then send a signal causing the biobots to proceed to the nearest wall and follow along its base.


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