Remote Control Cockroaches Helps Search For Earthquake Survivors [VIDEO]
Normally, people squirm at the site of a cockroach. But earthquake survivors may soon be jumping for joy at the site of them. Scientists have outfitted cockroaches with a backpack that allows researchers to control where they go, and these remote-controlled bugs are the newest tools for search-and-rescue.
Experts initially attempted to build a robot to conduct the searches, but the large batteries needed to power them prevented them from squeezing through nooks and crannies.
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"Insects have a power process on them, a natural one," Alper Bozkurt, an electrical engineer at North Carolina State University, told NBC News. "We just needed to supply power for communication, which is not much."
The bugs were deployed during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan to search for survivors.
Researchers attach one stimulator to the roach's antenna and another to its rear end in order to control them.
"What we do is we insert tiny electrodes to the antennae and we send low-power pulses [to them]," Bozkurt said.
Roaches normally move by using their antennae to sense obstacles. When they bump into a wall, their antennae registers that and they turn around. The electrical pulses simulates that response and allows the controller to direct the bug.
In order to make it move forward, the sensor on its rear simulates a feeling they get when something sneaks up on them from behind.
"So, we use that to make the insect go forward and antenna electrodes to make it go left and right," Bozkurt said.
But before you worry about the bug, Bozkurt was quick to mention that the shock doesn't hurt them.
"Insects do not have the concept of pain ... they have sensors that direct their reflexes, but they don't have pain sensors," he said.
The control is a good start, but Bozkurt said more work needs to be done to make them more reliable.
"Right now we have direct line-of-sight communication," Bozkurt said. "But when you are trying to save people, there will be a lot of material between our transmitter and the antenna on the insect."
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