Robo-roaches to help in rescues
That's exactly what US scientists have figured out how to do. But don't worry – the little critters have your best interests at heart.
Researchers at North Carolina State University are turning cockroaches into "biobots" that can help pinpoint the location of survivors at disaster sites, such as under the rubble of a collapsed building.
The cockroaches are equipped with an electronic "backpack" that contains a computer chip, tiny microphones and minuscule solar panels.
Algorithms analyse audio picked up by the microphones to localise the source of a sound, such as a person crying out for help.
The roach is then steered towards the sound with electronic stimulations to its antennae and its cerci, which are the sensory organs at the end of its abdomen.
Zapping the cerci propels the bug forward, while zaps to the antennae steer it left or right by tricking it into thinking it's hit a wall.
Alper Bozkurt, Assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University, and a senior author of the research paper, said sound was the best way to find survivors in a collapsed building site.
"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 said.
"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."
The team has also developed technology that can tell the biobots to remain within a specified area, and which can direct them towards light sources to recharge their solar-powered gear.
"Biobots" can have significant advantages over completely man-made robots because they come readily-equipped with the biological tools nature gave them – such as the cockroach's ability to scuttle into very tight places, and its fabled reputation for being able to survive even a nuclear bomb.
The researchers previously experimented with software using Microsoft's XBox Kinect to make the roaches travel along a predefined path.
A separate research group, also at North Carolina State University, successfully used biobots to map disaster areas. The groups plan to merge their findings to aid in search and rescue work.
Both research teams were funded by the US National Science Foundation CyberPhysical Systems Program.
- Fairfax Media Australia