Engineer Hirotaka Sato, affiliated with Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, has selected the Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa) as the basis for creating a cyborg cockroach , useful for his rescue team. These insects, which measure 5 centimeters in length, can carry up to 15 grams of integrated technology, which currently includes an infrared camera and a processor capable of identifying the presence of living people.
Using remote control, Sato’s team can guide the insects in specific directions, whether left, right, forward, or allow them to navigate autonomously to predefined destinations. Currently, researchers are perfecting the essential tracking and communication systems so that a cyborg cockroach specimen can tell rescue teams the location of people who require assistance.
In the case of cyborgs like the search-and-rescue cockroaches developed by Sato, roboticists take advantage of the inherent abilities of largely intact biological systems.
The initial idea of the cyborg cockroach
In 2011, Sato aimed to overcome the complications of building centimeter-scale flying robots from scratch, opting to control live flying beetles (Mecynorrhina torquata) equipped with tiny onboard computers. The use of the natural abilities of beetles not only solved the engineering challenge linked to flight, but also resulted in autonomous cyborgs equipped with an advanced sensory system to facilitate their navigation in the environment.
When the Tohoku earthquake hit, it only took a small conceptual leap (changing flying beetles for agile cockroaches) for Sato to imagine a cyborg capable of navigating the rubble of devastated buildings. Sato’s idea is to employ hundreds of cyborg cockroaches to explore search areas autonomously. However, to ensure that they stayed in the target zone, Sato needed a method to guide their movement.
It achieved this by inserting electrodes into various parts of the insect’s body, which can be controlled either by a remote human operator or by the integrated computer. Electrical stimulation of the tactile receptors or muscles on the cockroach’s left side causes the insect to move to the right, and vice versa. According to Sato, the natural behavior of the insect is used to induce turns. Simultaneous stimulation of left and right movements propels the cockroach forward. In the most recent models, the group incorporates navigation algorithms, managed by an integrated computer, to control the direction of the insect as captured by the infrared camera.
The most recent prototypes developed by his team have an operating time of approximately eight hours. However, Sato hopes to significantly extend this time in the future.
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