Harnessing the power of cockroaches has been technically possible for a while but now engineers at Texas A&M University have come up with a design that gives them better control of cyborg cockroaces.
These robo-roaches came into being after a little backpack was pinned on top of a live cockroach. It’s not actually pinned because that would be cruel, but a mini computer is wired into the animal’s nervous system.
In an abstract published in the Journal of the Royal Society, researchers from the university said they’ve developed a hybrid robotic system that uses the natural locomotion and robustness of the insect.
A tethered control system was firstly characterized using American cockroaches, wherein implanted electrodes were used to apply an electrical stimulus to the prothoracic ganglia. Using this approach, larger discoid cockroaches were engineered into a remotely controlled hybrid robotic system. Locomotion control was achieved through electrical stimulation of the prothoracic ganglia, via a remotely operated backpack system and implanted electrodes. The backpack consisted of a microcontroller with integrated transceiver protocol, and a rechargeable battery. The hybrid discoid roach was able to walk, and turn in response to an electrical stimulus to its nervous system with high repeatability of 60%.
Fusing the two together give human operators the ability to control the cyborg. Another advantage is such living systems can be self-powered through in-taking water, air and food. So the natural functions of living and breathing is enough to power the backpack.
The goal of the research has been to remotely control insects with the purpose of taking advantage of their natural movements. However, establishing efficient control of the natural leg movements of living insects has proven to be a difficult task.
Hong Liang, director of the Aggie Robo-Roach Science Lab, said marrying insects with robots makes sense. The backpack used on the cockroach for wireless control is a small printed circuit board, wire electrodes and a rechargeable lithium polymer battery.
In case you’re wondering, the whole circuit board weighs 1.4 g and is 16.5 mm square. The average weight of a cockroach is 0.105 grams.
Insects can do things a robot cannot. They can go into small places, sense the environment, and if there’s movement, from a predator say, they can escape much better than a system designed by a human. We wanted to find ways to work with them.
Funding for the research was partially provided for by the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command leading us to think these cyborg roaches could be used one day in warfare.
But for now, the immediate goal of these cyborgs is to carry tiny video cameras, microphones and other sensors.
With those on board, it could gather information from places where humans would rather not be: collapsed buildings, broken sewers, and the kitchens in student housing, where presumably some real live cockroaches may be found.