As an upperclassman who recently moved off campus, I have had the unfortunate experience of doing a little cockroach pest control in my apartment kitchen recently.
However, while the insect known for its legendary ability to withstand nuclear warfare is often smashed and stepped onin homes everywhere, researchers from North Carolina State University have welcomed the cockroach with open arms into their laboratory.
With the help of a little robotics, a research group led by Alper Bozkurt has found a way to control the movements of the Madagascar hissing cockroach.
By attaching wireless devices to the cockroach’s antennae and other sensory organs, and stimulating signals that make the insect feel as if it is hitting, say, a wall, the team at North Carolina State University can then trick the roaches to move in whatever direction they want.
Bozkurt and his team hope the technology can be used to turn the common house-pest into a disaster relief aid. By sending the resilient and mobile cockroaches equipped with cameras and other sensory devices into rubble, emergency personnel can have a safe and controllable means of investigating the damage and searching for survivors.
While the final product is still a ways away, the Bozkurt group is not the only team looking at the power of biorobots. Earlier in the year, a group from Case Western University led by Daniel Scherson discovered a way to utilize cockroach metabolism to power biofuel cells.
The team at Case Western implanted an electrode into the cockroach and, by tapping into the insect’s own production of the sugar trehalose, was able to convert the chemical energy of metabolism into stored electrical energy.
Like Bozkurt at North Carolina, Scherson hopes to utilize the cockroaches and their personal fuel cells to aid in potential disaster relief.By powering sensors attached to the cockroach, Scherson believes the insect could one day be part of survivor rescue efforts as the bugs make their way through the dust and rubble of natural disaster scenes.
To see these roboroaches in action, search “Cyborg Cockroaches” on LiveScience.com to see the NC State University group direct cockroaches along pre-designated paths.