Posted: 8:39 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013

Cyborg cockroaches could scout dangerous areas

By Matt Picht

Video transcript provided by

Everybody calm down! It’s going to be alright! The robotic cockroaches are here to save the day!

So maybe that line sounds a bit far-fetched now, but cyborg bugs really could help save lives someday. Researchers are experimenting with using remote-controlled roaches to explore disaster-stricken buildings. (Via YouTube / Buzz60)

The current plan is to send cockroaches into hard-to-explore areas equipped with tiny electronic backpacks. The roaches spread out randomly, and then seek out and follow along walls on command. A map of the area can then be made based on how close each bug is to its neighbors. (Via GigaOM)

Lead researcher Dr. Edgar Lobaton says the insect explorers could be useful mapping out collapsed buildings where GPS signals can’t be used.

“We focused on how to map areas where you have little or no precise information on where each biobot is. … This would give first responders a good idea of the layout in a previously unmapped area.” (Via North Carolina State University)

Although this study presents a novel use for cockroaches, the concept of bio-bugs has been developed pretty thoroughly in recent science.

Popular Science even has an instruction manual on how to build your very own biobug for just $50.

There’s even a Kickstarter campaign peddling commercial cyborg roach kits for the classroom. The project aims to teach people about how brains work, in bugs and in people.

But all this rampant bugbot experimentation has raised a few moral concerns.

Bio-ethicists have voiced concerns that remotely controlled cockroaches might suffer permanent physical or mental damage. Also, the whole mind-control aspect is a little unsettling. (Via Business Insider)

Researchers are still working on testing their software with actual roaches, and haven’t attached any commercial plans to their findings. Until they do, the experience of being trapped in a collapsed building with a swarm of robotic cockroaches will remain a distant dream — or a terrifying nightmare.

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