Often cockroaches aren’t people’s best friends, but maybe in a few years you will be relieved when you see a cockroach. Researchers of the North Carolina State University succeeded in developing a new technique that will be able to move a cockroach in any direction. By doing this, they may be creating an opportunity to change the cockroach’s poor image into that of a life saver.
The technique has three main principles. First, to control the cockroach, they give it a backpack containing a microchip, with a wireless receiver and transmitter. This microchip communicates with a micro-controller, which is also stuffed into the backpack. The controller is wired by electrodes that are implanted into the antenna at the front of its body and the cerci at its abdomen.
Second, to compel the cockroach to walk forward, the electrode wired at the cerci is used. The cerci, some protrusions at the abdomen, are normally used to detect dangers appearing behind of the cockroach. The connected wire gives an electronic pulse at the cerci. Doing this mimics a danger from behind, resulting in the cockroach moving forward.
But a cockroach only moving forward when you want to isn’t that valuable, therefore the researchers solved the steering problem. The electrons at the antenna make the cockroach think, by giving it small electronic injections, that there is a physical barrier on one side. The cockroach then moves in the opposite direction.
The opportunities of these small-scale and low-cost ‘biobotic’ cockroaches are emerging, especially because cockroaches are small and moreover perfectly equipped to bear hostile environments. “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” said Alper Bozkurt, one of the authors of the research.
So next time, please think twice when you are about to trample a cockroach. Maybe it’s a high-tech member of a search-and-rescue team.