Scientists at North Carolina State have come up with a practical use for cockroaches -- search and rescue. Where miniature robots have proved impractical and power intensive, remote controlled roaches may be just the ticket.
“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.
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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.”
He is smart. He can make them go.
But there are some basic facts about cockroaches that give me pause.
- Cockroaches have been around since the time of the dinosaurs.
- If you cut the head off a cockroach, it can live for weeks.
- Cockroaches become immune to poisons within a few generations, in part because they cannibalize their dead.
- Cockroaches thrive in any climate and have been found on every continent -- even at the poles.
- Cockroaches can survive for 45 minutes without oxygen.
- Cockroaches can withstand up to 105,000 rems of radiation.
Well, sure. What could go wrong?