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Remote-Controlled Cyborg Cockroaches Could Help Save Lives

cyborg cockroach

Image credit: Carlos Sanchez, Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University

When disaster falls, it is very vital to grasp every minute to rescue survivors trapped in a dangerous situation. In order to locate survivors more quickly, scientists have developed remote-controlled bionic cockroaches more capable than a robot in terms of maneuvering through rubble and tight spaces. The study, hosted by Hong Liang of TexasA&MUniversity, has been made public in the latest issue of the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

It is not the new concept of using robotically-enhanced cockroaches, because it was reported last November that the researchers from North CarolinaStateUniversity were engaged in the similar project. While that project controlled the cockroaches through acoustic cues, this newly-developed method was focused on stimulating the roach’s brain so as to control and maneuver it. Different from the previous methods in which cockroaches were tethered to the controls, this new one could enable them to be remotely steered.

As claimed by the authors, hybrid robotic systems were remarkably superior to traditional engineered robotic systems, because hybrid systems could use tiny living insects with the effective sensory system and be responsive to their environments via multiple feedback channels. Such living systems could be self-powered by in taking water, air and food.

It is also advantageous to use a living organism capable of evading threats with no input from the operator. If a predator or dangerous situation is forthcoming, the roach will go away from it by instinct. But how well the cockroach is controlled is also an important issue, because the operator would possibly be aware of where the insect could start to look. So scientists allow the cockroach to wear a backpack being directly tapped into its brain. By the means of stimulating certain areas of the brain, scientists could be able to control the insect’s movements and direct its way. If properly working together, these two abilities would enable the cockroach to become a powerful tool in rescue operations targeted on disaster survivors.

According to the results from the remote-controlled tests, it was known that it was essential to have a feedback control scheme for more consistency in response of the roach. The visual feedback from the operator was required in the present system so as to use the necessary pulse characteristics for controlling the turning behavior of the roach. With this method it was necessary for the operator to be well-experienced and maintain continuous visual contact with the roach. But in reality the deployment of a hybrid roach would not be as ideal as in laboratory conditions.

In an attempt to enable the cockroaches to be better equipped to deal with actual disaster situations, the researchers are intended to equip the cockroaches with more apparatus, such as cameras, microphones, and other sensory gauges so that they would help operators guide the insects in a more reliable way. In addition, they are considering reducing the size of the equipment, because the additional weight would slow down the cockroaches in the way that they would have difficulty in performing their tasks for a long period of time.

Check out the cockroaches in action:

Journal reference: Sanchez, Carlos J., et al. “Locomotion control of hybrid cockroach robots.”Journal of The Royal Society Interface 12.105 (2015): 20141363.

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