It may not be an attractive idea on the surface, but North Carolina University researchers have developed a rig that could put cockroaches to good use.
They made a proverbial “electronic backpack,” a rig that contains a computer chip and microphones and a few tiny solar panels.
What kind of rig would need all of those things? And what does have to do with cockroaches?
Well, basically, researchers want to turn cockroaches into search and rescue biobots. Cockroaches can access lots of places where humans and other rescue animals, like dogs, cannot access. Furthermore, they are simple creatures which can be manipulated by computers. Cockroach biobots are much better than even tiny man-made robots because the insect already knows how to maneuver through tight spaces; thus it combines anatomy and physiology with technology in a way that has never been done before. And the concept is extremely promising.
Alper Bozkurt is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University. The senior author of this research paper remarks that sound is easily the best way to find survivors in a devastatingly collapsed building.
“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,” explains Bozkurt. “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.”
Basically, the device works by microphones sending signals back to a computer where humans can analyze the data, probably at a safe distance from catastrophic site. If the cockroach biobot’s microphone detects a human voice, the engineers can steer that biobot—through electronic impulses that manipulate the insect’s antennae—to head towards the sound.