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Scientists develop Cyborg cockroach, could save people trapped under debris

The neuro-controller micocircuit developed by researchers at the University of Connecticut in the US is part of a tiny electronic ‘backpack’ that can be attached to the insect with its wires connected to the insect’s antennae lobes.

science Updated: Sep 09, 2018 13:26 IST
Cyborg cockroach,Scientists,building collapse
Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have developed a cyborg cockroach powered by a tiny neuro-controller that could be used in search and rescue missions to find people trapped under collapsed buildings.(Representative Image/AFP Photo)

Scientists, including one of Indian origin, have developed a cyborg cockroach powered by a tiny neuro-controller that could be used in search and rescue missions to find people trapped under collapsed buildings.

Researchers have been exploring ways to tether live insects to miniaturised computer hardware so they can manipulate an insect’s movement. Success has been limited and numerous technological challenges continue to exist.

This is due to the tremendous difficulty building robotic systems at such small scale and the challenge interfacing electronic hardware with the insect’s biological nerve tissue to initiate movement.

The neuro-controller micocircuit developed by researchers at the University of Connecticut in the US is part of a tiny electronic ‘backpack’ that can be attached to the insect with its wires connected to the insect’s antennae lobes.

By sending slight electrical charges to neural tissue in either the insect’s left or right antenna lobe, operators can trick the insect into thinking it has detected an obstacle, causing it to move in another direction.

A charge sent to the right antenna makes a cockroach move left. Likewise, a charge to the left antenna makes it move right.

The controller can stimulate an insect’s antennae lobes using four-channel microcircuitry. The system also provides real-time feedback of the insect’s neural-muscular response to stimuli.

That level of detail makes it easier to monitor and control movement, a long sought-after advantage in the micro robotic insect community, researchers said.

“The use of insects as platforms for small robots has an incredible number of useful applications from search and rescue to national defense,” said Abhishek Dutta, assistant professor at University of Connecticut.

“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,” said Evan Faulkner, an undergraduate researcher in his Dutta’s lab.

The controller’s value comes in the form of an advanced 9-axis inertial measurement unit inside the device that tracks an insect’s linear and rotational acceleration, identifies its compass heading, and detects the ambient temperature surrounding the creature.

The latter feature is important, the scientists say, because tests have shown that ambient temperature can have an impact on how some insect hosts perform.

The information gathered by the microcircuit is transmitted to the operator via a tiny Bluetooth antenna on the device. The signal can be easily detected by an ordinary cellphone.

As the insect’s heading, acceleration, and other data comes in, operators can extrapolate the insect’s trajectory, adjust the antennae stimuli accordingly, send the appropriate electrical impulses to the insect remotely, and steer it in a desired direction.

To test the new controller, researchers attached the device to a Madagascar hissing cockroach in his lab.

The tests showed the cockroach moving left when its right antenna lobe was stimulated and moving right when the left one received a small electrical charge.

First Published: Sep 09, 2018 13:26 IST