Scientists transformed a cockroach into a remote-controlled zombie cyborg using an electrical backpack — and no, there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of
Mechanical engineers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have painlessly created a remote-controlled cockroach.
The target? Use this new technology to create an army of cyborg insects to explore the ruins in the aftermath of a disaster, or let us inspect aspects of our critical infrastructure that are difficult to reach.
The researchers used a new technology based on non-invasive electrodes – which essentially attach electric backpacks to the cockroaches – to control them remotely in what they describe as a pain-free experience.
Using cockroaches in search and rescue
The team published their research in npj Flexible Electronics, detailing exactly how they achieved this feat and what the point of it all was.
“Centimeter-scale mobile robots have recently received increasing attention due to the growing demand to work in confined spaces, such as post-disaster urban terrain exploration and pipeline inspection,” the research paper said.
“Current robots at this scale mainly include robots composed of mechanical structures and cyborg insects.
“Despite the advantages of dynamic control, the former generally suffer from high energy consumption and poor adaptability to complex environments. Cyborg insects, on the other hand, retain the insect’s locomotion and adaptability to the environment, thus exhibiting low energy requirements.”
There have been previous attempts, but all have relied on embedding probes into the nervous system, which, understandably, may have harmed the insects and caused them discomfort. The research team from Nanyang Technology University even noted that harming the insects will have a disappointing impact on longevity.
They relied on previous research showing that cockroaches could be manipulated by stimulating their antennae. They attached cuffs to each antenna and then created a layered cover of gold and plastic that fit over each antenna. They then blasted them with UV light to shrink-wrap them.
The researchers then attached both sleeves to a backpack that was glued to the cockroach. They sent wireless signals to the backpack from a remote control, which delivered gentle shocks to one or both antennas. This caused the insect to move in a certain direction. Another electrode, glued to the abdomen, could control the cockroach’s speed.