Don’t look now, but your life, or that of a loved one, just may be saved by a cockroach in the event of a natural disaster or a similar “act of God.”
How is this even possible? How can an otherwise disgusting creature serve as a lifeline? A team of researchers from North Carolina State University claims to have turned cockroaches into “cyborgs” or “biobots“ that would make their way into small, confined spaces, and detect sounds during rescue and relief missions. These bugs will be kept within these tight spaces by means of an “invisible fence,” and will come with their own backpacks, which contain a small, singular microphone for simple sound detection, or multiple 3D microphones that could actually pick up where the sounds had originated from.
This may sound like a neat new advance in the world of science and tech, but the concept of robotic roaches isn’t completely new, and it hasn’t exactly been popular with some people. In 2013, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had complained about Backyard Brains’ RoboRoach educational toy, saying that children will not want to “learn anything about neurological diseases” or “be interested in studying it in the future based on mutilating a cockroach” But this just might be a more practical application of cyborg roaches, as it takes advantage of a cockroach’s durability, combined with modern technology, to help in search-and-rescue efforts.
“The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter—like people calling for help—from sounds that don’t matter—like a leaking pipe,” said study co-author Dr. Alper Bozkurt. “Once we’ve identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero in on where those sounds are coming from.”
A video of these cyborg cockroaches or “biobots” can be found here, if you’re curious to see how the technology works.