In the photo above, a cyborg cockroach is steered along a curving line by remote control. That’s right, a cyborg cockroach.
Practically since the advent of robotics humanity has been working on ways to put a machine in harms way rather than a human. Unmanned aerial drones for the military, for example, can scout for danger and even deliver an attack.
But North Carolina State scientists have their mind on a smaller scale — figuring out how to help someone buried in rubble, or gather information on a hostile environment unsafe for people. The obvious solution — cyborg cockroaches.
NBC News reports that scientists have outfitted a cockroach with a high-tech backpack that allows researchers to remotely control where it moves. Many unmanned small robots exist, but making them insect-size small has been a challenge because of the large batteries needed to power them. The scientists came up with a creative solution to this dilemma.
“Insects have a power process on them, a natural one,” Alper Bozkurt, an electrical engineer at North Carolina State University, told NBC News. “We just needed to supply power for communication, which is not much.”
Slate reports that the Madagascar hissing cockroaches are outfitted with a backpack with electrodes connected to their antennae and cerci. By administering a charge to either the cerci, left antennae or right antennae, scientist control where the bug will go. A jolt to the cerci convinces the bug that something is sneaking up on it, and it will speed up. A jolt to the right antennae turns it left, and a jolt to the left antennae turns it right.
The researchers pointed out that the bugs have a sense of feel, which is key in the the steering mechanism, but add that they do not have pain sensors.
Don’t look for an army of cyborg cockroach rescuers to hit the scene on a natural disaster any time soon though. The researchers said their success rate of getting one of the bionic bugs to complete the “s-course” seen in the video below was only about 10 percent, with the weigh of the backpack sometimes slowing the bugs’ response time.