While most of us despise the little critters for their resilience, the fact that cockroaches are so tough may actually prove beneficial. Their ability to squeeze into extremely tight spaces and sneak around virtually unnoticed are the same abilities researchers are looking for in tiny reconnaissance robots. Unfortunately making something so small, yet so durable is a tall order. Instead, a team of scientists from North Carolina State University are developing a remote control system for cockroaches. Yes, real, living cockroaches that can be controlled by humans. It's a great day, my friends.
The team, led by assistant professor of electrical engineering Alper Bozkurt, has equipped Madagascar hissing cockroaches (the big nasty ones you see on TV) with a sort of backpack containing a lightweight computer chip, wireless receiver and transmitter, and a microcontroller.
The controller is hooked up to the cockroach's antennae and ceri (sensors in the abdomen that detect air movement and warn of possible threats). When the signal is sent to the ceri with the controller, the roach responds just as it would naturally, suspecting something is coming, and begins to scurry away. The antennae are stimulated in a similar fashion. Usually a cockroach's antennae would brush against something and inform the bug that it can't go that way. This system replicates the same thing by sending a small electric charge to the antennae, convincing the roach that something is there, forcing it to change direction.
So what? They're just going to zap the roach until they fry his brain? Not quite. The microcontroller also monitors the electrodes implanted in the bug to avoid any tissue damage. No one wants to see these guys hurt.
While it may be awhile before a swarm of remote controlled roaches raid any shady operations, Bozkurt and his team have already had success with the cockroach remote control. If you find it too hard to believe, like we did, you can watch them guide a cockroach along curved lines in the video below.
Yep, that just happened. We can't wait for the day someone slaps a sensor on our back to control us... Won't that be neat?