Finally, someone has designed a way to convert one of the world's biggest pests into something useful.
"Our aim was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small spaces," Alper Bozkurt said, according to Physorg.com.
Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at NC State, was co-author of the project's paper, presented recently at the International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society in San Diego, Calif.
"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," he said.
"Building small-scale robots that can perform in such uncertain, dynamic conditions is enormously difficult," Bozkurt added. "We decided to use biobotic cockroaches in place of robots, as designing robots at that scale is very challenging and cockroaches are experts at performing in such a hostile environment."
To do so, the researchers used a cheap, lightweight computer chip with a wireless receiver to transmit a signal to the roaches. Imagine the roaches strapped with a tiny backpack and you get the picture. The device weighs only 0.7 grams and includes a microcontroller that monitors the interface between implanted electrodes and tissue so the roach's nervous system doesn't fry.
The device is also wired to the cockroach's antennae and cerci, its sensory organs in the abdomen. The cerci detect movement in the air to detect predators and cause roaches to scurry. However, by using wires to stimulate the cerci, researchers were able to trick the roach into thinking something was sneaking up on it, thus causing it to move.
Wires attached to the antennae are essentially reins that feed small charges into the roach's neural tissue, which fool the roach into thinking there is something they need to steer clear of. In doing so, researchers were able to steer the roach along a curved line.