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HOME > BLOG > From the Staff > Blog Post

Cyber-Enabled Bionic Organisms

Robert FrederickJan 15, 2016

The future of search-and-rescue missions may be in the form of insect-sized robots. Researchers are creating such robots because of insects’ unmatched ability to navigate through a wide variety of environments, including the rubble of collapsed buildings. So far, though, the technology suffers from mechanical challenges. Tiny robots have a hard time carrying a sufficient power supply, for example, or bending their “legs” thousands of times without breaking the material they’re made from.

So, by merging current technologies with biological organisms, Alpert Bozkurt of North Carolina State University has found a way to control insects directly. His team successfully interfaced bionic systems with cockroaches.

The cockroaches carry tiny backpacks that receive wireless control signals and then transmit mini electrical charges via wires connected to the bugs’ nerve cells, which stimulates the insects to move forward or turn left or right. To the cockroaches, which don’t have pain receptors, the stimulation is like what their own nervous systems transmit when a predator approaches or when their antennae touch an obstacle or wall.

Now, Bozkurt and his team are working to network hundreds of backpack-equipped cockroaches to work as one, fanning out over an area—and under rubble—and staying put. That will allow search-and-rescue workers to map areas under the rubble based on the cockroaches’ locations. And by placing tiny sensors on the backpacks, workers will be able to identify where people may be trapped as well as any sources of danger, such as gas leaks, faster.

This post is published in From the Staff


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