Remote-control tech turns cockroaches into beasts of burden

Scientists have outfitted a cockroach with a high-tech backpack that allows them to remotely control where it scurries.

While the concept may sound terrifying, anyone buried alive under rubble in an earthquake will shout for joy at the sight of one of these bugs. The shout will be relayed to rescue teams…

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.

Cockroaches use their antennae to feel their way around the environment. “What we do is we insert tiny electrodes to the antennae and we send low-power pulses [to them],” Alper Bozkurt said.

The pulse simulates the antenna feeling an obstacle, such as a wall, causing the cockroach to turn the other direction. Buzz the left antenna, the cockroach turns right; buzz the right one, the bug turns left…

The electrical engineer likened his research to the domestication of horses, oxen and other so-called beasts of burden that were a boon to the development of ancient civilizations…

What’s different today is we have the tools and biological know-how to control the cockroaches as well as a use for a beast of burden that can only carry a payload of a couple of grams.

“We are now living in the information era,” Bozkurt said. “So the most important payload is the information itself and we can … gather megabits of information on the insect’s backpack.”

Useful, cool – and you know Uncle Sugar’s Army gets first crack at using them.

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