Scientists Create ‘Cyborg Cockroach’ That Could One Day Save People’s Lives

Meet the cyborg cockroach, a robot-roach hybrid that can be made to obey human commands.

Cockroach
Guillermo Guerao Serra / Shutterstock

Meet the cyborg cockroach, a robot-roach hybrid that can be made to obey human commands.

After the cyborg cows of Utah, meet the cyborg cockroach of Connecticut.

While you can read up on the cyborg cows in this Inquisitr article, the creation of the cyborg cockroach has just been announced this week by the University of Connecticut — and the reason why this creature exists will probably blow you away.

As the university explains, the creation is a robot-roach hybrid — essentially a hardwired biological insect which can be made to obey human commands.

The subject is a live Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa), which has been enhanced by way of technology and can be controlled through a special microcircuit, designed to fit on the insect’s back and be worn like a backpack.

Also known as a neural controller, the microcircuit was developed by Prof. Abhishek Dutta and undergraduate student Evan Faulkner, whom Geek describes as “a couple of real-life Dr. Frankensteins.”

The reason why the two chose the Madagascar hissing cockroach is because that particular arthropod is among the largest cockroach species in existence and can grow to lengths of up to three inches (7.6 centimeters). So there’s more space to place the tech.

At the same time, Madagascar hissing cockroaches are excellent climbers, equipped to tackle even smooth glass, which means they can creep into places that for other creatures remain inaccessible. And, as it turns out, people are actually keeping these not-so-tiny crawlers as pets, notes Geek.

The way all of this works is by sending short electrical pulses to the roach’s antennae lobes via a set of wires connected to the microcircuit. These signals are perceived by the insect as obstacles and prompt an immediate reaction, making the cockroach change trajectory and move in a desired direction.

For instance, an electrical signal sent to the roach’s right lobe will make it turn left and vice versa. This allows the operator to control the insect’s movements with the help of a tiny Bluetooth transmitter and receiver, which makes for one cyborg cockroach ready to go, wherever you tell it to.

“It’s power steering redefined,” notes the university in a humorous remark.

In case you were wondering whether this contraption is in any way harmful to the insect, University of Connecticut officials reassure that “no roaches were hurt by these experiments.”

As Interesting Engineering points out, the microchip backpack used to control the robo-cockroach is featherweight; at the same time, the electrical impulses sent to steer the insect have the exact same charge as the ones cockroaches normally get when they’re up and about, doing their cockroach stuff.

According to their creator, robot-roach hybrids could one day serve the very noble purpose of saving human lives by assisting in search and rescue operations, among other things.

“The use of insects as platforms for small robots has an incredible number of useful applications, from search-and-rescue to national defense,” Dutta said in a statement.

In fact, robo-cockroaches are far from being a novelty, with other teams developing their own systems of controlling insect movement. What sets this invention apart is the fact that it provides a “more reliable and precise control of robotic insect motion,” explains the university.

The design of the microchip includes a nine-axis inertial measurement unit and a temperature sensor. This allows it to detect six degrees of free motion, acceleration, and direction, while also measuring the ambient temperature to predict where the cyborg cockroach might go without the influence of the electrical stimuli — giving that these insects are known to prefer warm conditions to walk.

“Our microcircuit provides a sophisticated system for acquiring real-time data on an insect’s heading and acceleration, which allows us to extrapolate its trajectory,” says Dutta. “We believe this advanced closed-loop, model-based system provides better control for precision maneuvering, and overcomes some of the technical limitations currently plaguing today’s micro-robots.”