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Coming: cyborg cockroaches to help in urban search-rescue missions

Researchers claim these insects will be able to conduct surveillance in procedures like urban search and rescue, environmental monitoring and inspection of areas dangerous to humans.

A photograph of the cyborg insect (Source: Nature)

An international team of researchers led by Japan’s scientific institution, RIKEN’s Cluster for Pioneering Research (CPR), have devised a system that can create cyborg cockroaches, that are part insect and part machine. They claim that these insects, whose movements are controlled by tiny integrated circuits, will be able to conduct surveillance in procedures like urban search and rescue, environmental monitoring and inspection of areas dangerous to humans.

The researchers who published their findings in the scientific journal npJ Flexible Electronics on September 5, claim that by equipping the cockroaches with small wireless control modules, handlers will be able to control the insect’s legs remotely for long periods of time.

The team, led by RIKEN CPR’s Kenjiro Fukuda, used Madagascar cockroaches, which are not only the largest species of cockroaches, reaching an estimated 6 cm, but are also known for making hissing sounds when disturbed, which they make by expelling air from the openings on their back. Despite their hefty size, researchers only had limited surface area on which they could place the complex devices. Using a 3D printed soft backpack that was connected to the insect’s nervous system, they were able to control its leg segments.

The adhesion of the backpack that was affixed to the thorax remained secured “even after a month in the breeding environment,” the paper stated, confirming that it remained on the body for a long period of time.

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The researchers also designed the system to be rechargeable, by powering it with a super thin 0.004 mm solar cell module that is installed on the dorsal side of the cockroach’s abdomen. This was done to ensure that the battery remains charged and the cockroach can be controlled for long periods of time, while simultaneously ensuring that the movement remains unhindered.

First published on: 09-09-2022 at 03:05 IST
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