They may creep us out now, but cockroaches could be used to help save lives in collapsed buildings one day soon. Researchers at North Carolina State University have figured out a way to install an electronic system in a living cockroach to steer the bugs.
Phys.org quotes NC State electrical engineering assistant professor, Alper Bozkurt saying, "Our aim was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small space." "Ultimately, we think this will allow us to create a mobile web of smart sensors that uses cockroaches to collect and transmit information, such as finding survivors in a building that's been destroyed by an earthquake."
IT Wire says the team of researchers attached a tiny electronic "backpack" that weighs just 0.7 grams to a Madagascar Hissing cockroach. It's embedded with a low-cost, light-weight, commercially-available chip with a wireless receiver and transmitter. The controller is wired to the cockroach's antennae and cerci, the sensory organs on the bugs that detect movement suggesting a predator is approaching from behind. When the cerci is stimulated, the cockroach runs forward. Steering is done by its antennae. When one side is activated, the cockroach brain interprets it as a touch and will turn in the opposite direction.
During a recent test, the researchers were able to steer the roaches along a line that curves in different directions, by using the microcontroller.
Bozkurt had already developed similar interfaces to steer moths, using implanted electronic backpacks.