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Aruba, September 14, 2012 - Remote-control cockroach cyborgs are under development for search and rescue missions for earthquake survivors. Scientists have outfitted a cockroach with a high-tech backpack that allows them to remotely control where it scurries.
While the concept may sound terrifying, anyone buried alive under rubble in an earthquake will shout for joy at the sight of one of these bugs. The shout will be relayed to rescue teams.
Search and rescue robots are already in use. Many were showcased during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

But building practical, insect-sized robots able to squeeze through tightly packed rubble has proven difficult because of the large batteries needed to power them. “Insects have a power process on them, a natural one,” Alper Bozkurt, an electrical engineer at North Carolina State University, explained to me Friday. “We just needed to supply power for communication, which is not much.” The research builds on studies that have attached radio tags and sensors to insects to learn how their muscles work. Bozkurt and colleagues took this a step further and stimulated their muscles.

Their remote control system consists of two parts: antennae stimulators and another on their rear end. Cockroaches use their antennae to feel their way around the environment. “What we do is we insert tiny electrodes to the antennae and we send low-power pulses [to them],” Bozkurt said. The pulse simulates the antenna feeling an obstacle, such as a wall, causing the cockroach to turn the other direction. Buzz the left antenna, the cockroach turns right; buzz the right one, the bug turns left.

Spurring the cockroaches to scurry forward comes via a sensor on their rear end called cerci “which senses if there is a predator trying to reach from behind. When they feel something, they just go in the forward direction to run away from the predator,” Bozkurt explained. “So, we use that to make the insect go forward and antenna electrodes to make it go left and right.” In case all this shocking of cockroaches makes you feel sorry for the insects, Bozkurt said not to worry.

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