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New meaning for roach control

If only exterminators could control cockroaches with the same precision demonstrated by North Carolina State University researchers who use a wireless remote controller to steer a Madagascar Hissing cockroach along an S-shaped line in the video below.

Cyborg Cockroach

A closeup of the cyborg Madagascar Hissing cockroach, courtesy of NC State.

NC State researchers Tahmid Latif and Alper Bozkurt successfully control the path of the cockroach using a ZigBee-enabled wireless neurostimulation system on a chip, or backpack, attached to the cockroach. They created the biobot, or cyborg cockroach, to sidestep the energy and control challenges that loom ever larger as the size of mechanical robots scales down, the researchers explained in a paper presented at the 34th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society in 2012.

"Ultimately, we think this will allow us to create a mobile web of smart sensors that uses cockroaches to collect and transmit information, such as finding survivors in a building that's been destroyed by an earthquake,"  Bozkurt said in a university news brief. The communication device on the back of the cockroach includes a microphone that can transmit calls for help from survivors trapped in rubble.

Such biobots also could be used for environmental sensing missions to pinpoint hazardous materials.

The insect's backpack consisted of a rigid printed circuit board (PCB) with assembled microcontroller, receiver, miniature plugs for the stimulation electrodes and a 90mAh Li-Po battery, according to the research paper. The experimental system weighed 4g, but the researchers also developed a light-weight solution using Texas Instrument's CC2530 system on a chip that weighs 500mg.