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Saving Lives With Cyborg Cockroaches?

Nov 10, 2014 11:28 AM EST

The face of search and rescue, traditionally characterized by brave men and women and your occasional St. Bernard, just got a bit uglier. That's because researchers have created cyborg cockroaches that are capable of homing in on the sound of distressed disaster victims in tight spaces.

A pair of papers describing these findings were recently presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Sensors 2014 Conference in Valencia, Spain and the 36th Annual International IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) Conference in Chicago, Illinois.

Alper Bozkurt, a researcher at North Carolina (NC) State University and the senior author of the papers, makes the argument that during disasters like earthquakes or even warzones involving collapsed buildings, "sound is the best way to find survivors."

However, the human ear is not terribly accurate and even rescue dogs have a hard time pinpointing people buried under layers and layers of muffling rubble.

"The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter - like people calling for help - from sounds that don't matter - like a leaking pipe," Bozkurt said in a statement. "Once we've identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero in on where those sounds are coming from."

And what would be more effective at slipping into tight spaces and surviving dangerous circumstances than a cockroach? According to the research presentations, a pair of roaches have been developed that are equipped with either a microphone that wirelessly transmits high-resolution sound to first responders, or an array of three microphones that help detect the direction of sound. (Scroll to read on...)

[Credit: iBionicSLab]

The hope is that these two techs will soon be married into the perfect search-and rescue "cockroach backpack."

However, these unwitting insect heroes won't be simply left to wander on their own. According to Bozkurt, their microphone technology has been integrated with a simple system that controls cockroach movement by gently stimulating neurons in their antennae. If the roaches seem to be wandering away from a disaster site, they can simply be nudged in the right direction.

[Credit: iBionicSLab]

This is the same cyborg cockroach technology that became commercially available just last year, when a Kickstarter for the RoboRoach achieved its goal, creating take-home kits for young students trying to get involved in a "neuro-revolution."

This isn't the first time NC State and Bozkurt have introduced us to search-and-rescue cyborg insects either. Earlier this year, Nature World News reported how the researcher and his team are creating biobot moths which can act like a sensor network for pinpointing stranded survivors from above.

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