Cockroach Cyborgs for Emergency Response?

It’s about time we found something useful for these guys to do.

Researchers at North Carolina State (Go Wolfpack!) announced this week that they’ve developed a technology for turning cockroaches into cybernetic rescue workers. Kind of.

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The bugs — or “biobots” — are equipped with an electronic backpack that can be used to control movement. In the report’s accompanying demo video, the research team shows how an individual cockroach can be guided forward, left and right using, essentially, remote control.

The biobots are also equipped with one of two different kinds of microphone systems. The first is a single microphone that can capture high-resolution sound and transmit it wirelessly back to rescue workers. The second is an array of three directional microphones. Used together, the system could help rescue workers and first responders locate people trapped in rubble.

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“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,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and senior author of two papers on the work. “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 to keep the biobots within an “invisible fence” perimeter, so that they stay within range of each other, as well as a system to recharge the biobots using miniaturized solar cells.

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