September 10, 2012

Scientists Build Remote Controllable Cockroaches

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

As companies continue to pump out smartphone-controlled devices like the Ar.Drone 2.0, one set of researchers has taken things a step further with a remote controllable cockroach.

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a system that uses an electronic interface to steer cockroaches.

The team said that their goal was to determine whether they were able to create a wireless biological interface to control the insect.

Assistant Professor Alper Bozkurt said he hopes the team will be able to create a mobile web of smart sensors using these remote-controlled cockroaches.

The bugs will be able to help out with tasks like finding survivors in disaster zone buildings, such as those destroyed by earthquakes.

The researchers found a cheap and safe way to control the cockroaches and ensure they operate within defined parameters.

The system uses an embedded chip with a wireless receiver and transmitter on Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Researchers installed a backpack to each of the roaches that weighs 0.02 ounces and has a micro controller that monitors the interface between implanted electrodes and the tissue of the cockroaches in order to avoid neural damage.

They then wired the micro controller to the roach's antenna and cerci, which are sensory organs on the abdomen of the roach used to detect movement in the air.

The wires that were attached to the cerci spur the bugs into motion by tricking them into thinking a predator is sneaking up.

According to the researchers, the wires attached to the antenna create small electrical charges into the insect's neural tissue, which is what helps to steer the cockroaches.

“Insects have a power process on them, a natural one,” Bozkurt, an electrical engineer at North Carolina State University, told NBC news. “We just needed to supply power for communication, which is not much.”

The team will now start finding a way to communicate with the cockroaches beyond light-of-sight.

“Right now we have direct line-of-sight communication,” Bozkurt told NBC. “But when you are trying to save people, there will be a lot of material between our transmitter and the antenna on the insect.”

The researchers reported their biological engineering feat on a paper presented at the annual conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society.