SEP 08, 2018 9:48 PM PDT

Someday A Cyborg Cockroach Can Save Our Lives

WRITTEN BY: Nouran Amin

Credit: Image courtesy of Abhishek Dutta/UConn

Researchers at the University of Connecticut have developed a tiny neuro-controller that can provide precise control for futuristic biobots. One such biobot is a cyborg cockroach, which is currently being tested for the abilities in search and rescue missions, particularly inside collapsed buildings. In the past decade, scientists have worked to explore methods of tethering live insects to miniaturized computer programs in order to manipulate an insect’s movement.

Such research has involved search and rescue teams and the U.S. Department of Defense. However, research has produced limited success with numerous obstacles mainly due to the challenges associated with developing small-scale robotic systems.

The developed neuro-controller micro-circuit at UConn involves a tiny electronic 'backpack' that can be bound to the insect with its wires attached to the insect's antennae lobes. By transmitting slight electrical charges to neural tissue in either the left or right antenna lobe, operators can ‘trick’ the bug into thinking it detected an obstacle, leading it to change in another direction. For example, a signal transmitted to the right antenna makes a cockroach move left and a signal sent to the left antenna makes the insect move right.

Even though similar systems to this developed method are in existence, the UConn controller is particularly unique because the degree in which operators can move an insect's antennae lobes by a four-channel micro-circuitry. In addition, it brings a real-time feedback of the insect's neural-muscular response to stimuli. The controller makes it simple to monitor and control the insect movement; an advantage in the micro-robotic insect community.

"The use of insects as platforms for small robots has an incredible number of useful applications from search and rescue to national defense," says Abhishek Dutta, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UConn, who developed the circuit along with an undergraduate researcher in his lab, Evan Faulkner. "We believe our microcircuit provides a more sophisticated and reliable control system that brings us one step closer to real-world implementation of this technology."

To learn more about cyborg cockroaches, watch the video below:

Source: University of Connecticut

About the Author
  • Nouran is a scientist, educator, and life-long learner with a passion for making science more communicable. When not busy in the lab isolating blood macrophages, she enjoys writing on various STEM topics.
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