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Remote-Controlled Cockroaches?

If you’re like most people and saw a cockroach, you would be revulsed at the sight. But, how would you feel if you were trapped inside of a collapsed building or mine and rescuers had sent in a cockroach to find you?

Researchers at North Carolina State University say they can harness the cockroach’s uncanny survivability in ways that might someday benefit humanity.

“The trick is to fire wireless signals at a roach’s antennae and other sensory organs to guide it to a desired destination”, says Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor in the University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Bozkurt, working with doctoral candidate Tahmid Latif, installed a device that looks like a backpack on aMadagascarhissing roach. The backpack contains a thin printed circuit board with a microcontroller, a wireless receiver, miniature plugs for connecting stimulation electrodes and a lithium-ion polymer battery.

“What we do is similar to riding a horse,” Bozkurt says. “The roach walks naturally, and we simulate barriers by sending pulses to its antenna. They use their antenna as touch sensors, so stimulation on one side directs these insects toward the opposite direction.”

Designing a robot at that scale is very challenging and the researchers see remote-controlled roaches as an alternative. Their next step is to miniaturize the backpack even further and gain more precise control of movement.

“Termite” Terry says, “It’s hard to imagine, but someday you may shout with joy when you when you see a cockroach!”