Scientists Can Build An Army Of Live Remote-Control Cockroaches That Could Help Find Disaster Survivors

Picture: North Carolina State University

A team of researchers from North Carolina State University have found a way to control a cockroach’s brain, so it might help find disaster survivors.

The team strapped a tiny computer which can sense where sound comes from to a cockroach’s back. It “steers” the bug toward the sound because, somewhat eerily, the circuit board is connected to its brain.

Here’s a closer look at the picture above released by NC State, where you can see how the circuit board is wired in:

Picture: North Carolina State University

The technology isn’t new – it caused a huge ethical debate last year when a Kickstarter project launched RoboRoach, a DIY kit that saw kids, as young as 10, able to create their own RC cockroaches at home and steer them with iPhones.

Swiping the screen of a smartphone controls the RoboRoach’s movement. Kickstarter/Gage

But there’s unlikely to be little outcry over using the technology for lifesaving purposes, as opposed to fun.

“In a collapsed building, sound is the best way to find survivors,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and senior author of two papers on the work.

There are two types of “biobot”. One carries a single microphone which can pick up hi-res sound and send it on to response teams. The other is where the sorcery kicks in.

Biobot two carries three microphones which can actually figure out where the sound is coming from. Then they use sensors to stimulate the cockroach’s brain so it heads toward the sound.

Here it is in action. The sound is disabled on the video after three seconds, because it’s annoying:

“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,” Bozkurt says. “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.”

And if you’re wondering how the teams stop the biobots from just running away, Prof Bozkurt has a solution for that too – they’ve created an “invisible fence”: