Scientists Use Video Game Tech To Control Cockroaches
June 25, 2013

Scientists Use Video Game Tech To Control Cockroaches

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

Cockroach cyborgs are apparently becoming more and more popular, with researchers now turning to video games to help steer the insects via autopilot.

One group of researchers launched a Kickstarter campaign called RoboRoach that allows you to control a cockroach using your smartphone through re-engineering the insect's antennae. Now, researchers have incorporated Microsoft's motion-sensing Kinect system into an electronic interface that can remote control cockroaches and potentially help them be used in search and rescue efforts.

This new technology could be used to track how roaches respond to the remote control, allowing the insects to be controlled on autopilot. This method could be used to help map out dynamic environments.

Researchers plugged in a digitally-plotted path for cockroaches and used Kinect to identify and track the insect's progress. The program then uses the Kinect tracking data to automatically steer the roach along the designed path.

“Our goal is to be able to guide these roaches as efficiently as possible, and our work with Kinect is helping us do that,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University and co-author of a paper on the work. “We want to build on this program, incorporating mapping and radio frequency techniques that will allow us to use a small group of cockroaches to explore and map disaster sites."

He said the autopilot program being created could be used in search and rescue missions. The program would control the roaches to send them on the most efficient routes possible, providing rescuers with a comprehensive view of the situation. “We may even be able to attach small speakers, which would allow rescuers to communicate with anyone who is trapped,” Bozkurt says.

The use of Kinect to develop an autopilot program and track the precise response of cockroaches to electrical impulses is new. The interface that controls the roach is wired to the insect's antennae and cerci, which is a set of sensory organs on the abdomen that are used to detect movement in the air. The researchers use the wires attached to the cerci to spur the roach into motion. These wires attached to the antennae send small charges that trick the roach into thinking the antennae are in contact with a barrier and steer them in the opposite direction.

Researchers who launched the Kickstarter project only rewired the cockroach's antennae. This project is aimed at providing teachers with a fun way for students to learn more about neuroscience.


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