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Biobots – Can Save Lives [Video]

Biobots - Insects Plus ICs
Biobots – Insects Plus ICs

A “Biobot” is a biological robot that integrates technology with a biological organism or is designed to imitate or use the structure or physiology of a biological organism to perform a task.

There are few of us who appreciate seeing a cockroach.  But when a cockroach has a bionic guidance system surgically implanted onto its back, it could become an invaluable first-responder in a disaster such as an earthquake, chemical spill or nuclear accident.  These are often events where it’s too dangerous or the space too confined to send in rescuers and communications may be limited or not at all. 

The augmented bugs were developed at North Carolina State University’s iBionics Laboratory, led by assistant professor of engineering Alper Bozkurt, who presented a paper recently on these insect cyborgs at the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society in San Diego, California and by Edgar Lobaton, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper on the research to be presented at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems.

To create Biobots, they refrigerate the insects for a couple of hours to anesthetise them, then surgically insert electrodes in the roaches’ antennae and cerci [rear sensors].”  They use medical-grade epoxy to glue tiny magnets to their backs so a backpack/ carrying device can be snapped on when they go into the field.  Dr Bozkurt said, “This is the first stage of creating what we would call an insect cyborg.”

Once outfitted they can be precisely steered using electronic pulses to stimulate their antenna sensor cells, making them think there’s an obstacle to navigate around.  Females are preferred because they’re built to carry the weight of egg sacs.  But it works with males as well.

Inside the backpacks they can carry the wireless control system and miniature sensors (i.e. radiation), a locator beacon, a camera or a tiny microphone to pick up cries for help.  A human operator or computer steers the cockroaches and listens and monitor the sensors.

In the event of a disaster a swarm of augmented cockroaches with the appropriate type of sensing equipment would be released and driven forward until they find a wall or other impediment.  They map around the area in what’s known as a wall-following movement, sending back data continuously.

Video: Roach Robot (0 min, 43 sec)

It’s important to note that one cockroach alone cannot send back data but by the repeated and random movement of “wall following” the data each insect collects is sent whenever the Biobots are near each other.  The software then uses an algorithm to translate the Biobot sensor data and maps the unknown environment.

“One characteristic of Biobots is that their movement can be somewhat random,” Lobaton said. “We’re exploiting that random movement to work in our favor.”

To learn more:

Cyborg Swarm Can Map Unknown Environs

Could Cyborg Cockroaches Save Your Life?

The new Biobot research was presented at an August 28 meeting of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society in San Diego, California.

Biobot Insects Swarm to Explore Dangerous Environments


(Image Credit – Alper Bozkurt, North Carolina State University)

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