Japan’s cyborg cockroach to the rescue


Disaster rescue bug: A Madagascar hissing cockroach, mounted with a ‘backpack’ of electronics and a solar cell that enable remote control of its movement, is primed as a first responder to locate victims trapped under rubble. — Reuters

SAITAMA (Japan): If an earthquake strikes in the not too distant future and survivors are trapped under tonnes of rubble, the first responders to locate them could be swarms of cyborg cockroaches.

That’s a potential application of a recent breakthrough by Japanese researchers who demonstrated the ability to mount “backpacks” of solar cells and electronics on the bugs and control their motion by remote control.

Kenjiro Fukuda and his team at the Thin-Film Device Laboratory at Japanese research giant Riken developed a flexible solar cell film that’s four microns thick, about 1/25 the width of a human hair, and can fit on the insect’s abdomen.

The film allows the roach to move freely while the solar cell generates enough power to process and send directional signals into sensory organs on the bug’s hindquarters.

The work builds upon previous insect-control experiments at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and could one day result in cyborg insects that can enter hazardous areas much more efficiently than robots.

“The batteries inside small robots run out quickly, so the time for exploration becomes shorter,” Fukuda said.

“A key benefit (of a cyborg insect) is that when it comes to an insect’s movements, the insect is causing itself to move, so the electricity required is nowhere near as much.”

Fukuda and his team chose Madagascar hissing cockroaches for the experiments because they are big enough to carry the equipment and have no wings that would get in the way. The research though still has a long way to go.

Beyond disaster rescue bugs, Fukuda sees broad applications for the solar cell film, composed of microscopic layers of plastic, silver and gold.

The film could be built into clothing or skin patches for use in monitoring vital signs. — Reuters

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cyborg , cockroaches , robots

   

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