Scientists unleash army of remote-controlled cyborg cockroaches in desert

Researchers could relay commands to cockroaches, telling them where to go

Vishwam Sankaran
Wednesday 17 April 2024 08:53 BST
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Scientists in Singapore unleashed an army of remote-controlled cyborg cockroaches in a desert terrain to test such a swarm for future search-and-rescue missions.

The yet-to-be peer-reviewed research found that about 20 cyborg Madagascar hissing roaches mounted with tiny computer “backpacks” could be controlled to move as a single swarm across a sandy hill.

These cyborg roaches are live cockroaches laden with technology that scientists can use to control them.

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore could relay commands to the cockroaches, telling them which directions to go.

These commands were transmitted from the backpacks to the roaches’ sensory organs via electrodes on each side of the insects’ sensory organs.

While scientists could move the cockroaches left or right, the roaches themselves could also find their way around obstacles as they usually do.

Researchers also documented some cases in which roaches that had accidentally rolled over onto their backs were assisted back on their feet by others.

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While until now scientists have widely documented turning insects into cyborg beings, demonstrating the swarm behaviour of such multi-cyborg systems has been a challenge.

“This research gap is due to the difficulty in coordinating the movements of a cyborg system under the presence of insects’ inherent individual variability in their reactions to control input,” researchers explain.

Addressing these challenges, scientists developed a new swarm navigation algorithm for the cyborg roaches to follow.

Among the 20 roaches, one was the leader, and the others were followers, the study noted.

While the leader knows the goal position, the followers only know their neighbours’ relative positions.

Scientists found that the swarm displayed several “intriguing” features as they moved through the desert.

They found that the new algorithm reduced entanglement between the roaches.

Researchers also found that interactions among neighbouring roaches could help a trapped cyborg to escape a difficult situation.

Neighbouring roaches could also help each other overcome an overturn, scientists found.

Researchers hope such a swarm of cyborg insects could one day be used in search-and-rescue missions following natural disasters.

“This research contributes to the domain of swarm robotics and showcases the potential of integrating biological organisms with robotics and control theory to create more intelligent autonomous systems with real-world applications,” they wrote in the study.

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