Cyborg Cockroach to Help in Rescue Missions Inside Collapsed Buildings

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Tether live insects to miniaturised computer hardware can be helpful to Department of Defence, search and rescue teams

Researchers at the University of Connecticut created a tiny neuro-controller that could provide control of futuristic biobots such as cyborg cockroaches. These cockroaches are already being tested for use in search and rescue missions inside collapsed buildings.

Researchers have explored ways to tether live insects to miniaturised computer hardware so that they can manipulate an insect’s movement. Such possibilities are of interest to the U.S. Department of Defense, search and rescue teams, and others.

Can track an insects’ linear and rotational acceleration

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The controller’s value comes in the form of an advanced 9-axis inertial measurement unit inside the UConn device. It tracks an insect’s linear and rotational acceleration, identifies its compass heading and detects the ambient temperature surrounding the creature.
The information gathered by the microcircuit is transmitted to the operator via a Bluetooth antenna on the device.

The signal can be detected by an ordinary cellphone. As the insect’s heading, acceleration, and other data come in, operators can extrapolate the insect’s trajectory, adjust the antennae stimuli accordingly. Operators can send the appropriate electrical impulses to the insect remotely and steer it in the desired direction.

Operators can manipulate the thinking of an insect

The neuro-controller microcircuit developed at UConn is part of a tiny electronic backpack that can be attached to the insect with its wires connected to the insect’s antennae lobes.
By sending slight electrical charges to neural tissue in either the insect’s left or right antenna lobe, operators can trick the insect into thinking it has detected an obstacle, causing it to move in another direction.

A charge sent to the right antenna makes a cockroach move left. Likewise, a charge to the left antenna makes it move right. By UConn’s controller, operators can stimulate an insect’s antennae lobes using four-channel microcircuitry. The system also provides feedback on the insect’s neural-muscular response to stimuli.

This level of detail makes it easier to monitor and control movement, a long sought-after advantage in the micro-robotic insect community. To test the new controller, an expert in control system optimisation and cyber-physical systems, attached the device to a Madagascar hissing cockroach in his lab.

The tests showed the cockroach moving left when its right antenna lobe was stimulated and moving right when the left one received a small electrical charge. The researchers also noticed that the intensity of the roach’s movements left or right in response to artificial stimulation decreased after the initial stimulus.

So if the roach made a hard left after the first electronic pulse hit its right antenna lobe, its left turn was less dramatic with each subsequent pulse to that lobe. Well, Researchers are planning to conduct additional research to refine the system.

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