I feel like whenever a big giant roach crosses my path, it comes right at me as if it’s being remotely controlled by someone who has learned my deepest, darkest fears and is using them to torment and ‘bug’ me. Well, it seems I may be right!
Scientists from North Carolina have developed remotely-controlled roaches, not to torment me, more like to help find and save survivors of natural disasters.
National Geographic writes:
The sight of a cockroach scuttling across the floor makes most of us shudder, but in a disaster, roaches might prove to be our new best friends.
Cockroaches that are surgically transformed into remote-controlled “biobots” could help locate earthquake survivors in hard-to-access areas. This new video from North Carolina State University’s iBionics Laboratory shows how the lab’s enhanced roaches can be steered with surprising precision.
To learn more, Amanda Fiegl spoke to assistant professor of engineering Alper Bozkurt, who led the roach biobot project.
What exactly is a biobot? Is it like a cyborg, a combination of a living organism and a robot?
“Biobot” is short for “biological robot.” It is the first stage of creating what we would call an insect cyborg.
Currently, we can steer these roaches remotely and make them stop, go, and turn. If we can have them interact independently with the technologies we’ve surgically implanted in them, then they will become true cyborgs.
Is it hard to perform surgery on a cockroach?
No, it’s quite simple. Insects can be anesthetized by putting them in the fridge for a few hours—the cold basically makes them hibernate, so they don’t move. Then you just need tweezers and a microscope.
We do a simple surgery to insert the electrodes in the roaches’ antennae and cerci [rear sensors]. We also use medical-grade epoxy to glue tiny magnets to their backs, so that we can just snap on the backpack containing the wireless control system.
Your paper mentions that these biobots could help rescue earthquake survivors. How, exactly?
Their backpacks can carry a locator beacon and a tiny microphone to pick up cries for help. Of course, a human operator or computer still has to be listening and steering them. Our biobots are basically just beasts of burden. They could also carry a camera or any other kind of miniaturized sensor one can imagine.
These experiments were done in a very controlled laboratory environment, on a flat surface, so we are now in the process of building test-beds that mimic some real-life scenarios. I don’t think it will be very long before we can deploy them to actually help rescue people.
Read more of the Q & A at news.nationalgeographic.com