Mic-equipped cockroach cyborgs can detect and trace sounds

The next time you’re in trouble, who you gonna call? Cockroach cyborgs! That’s because researchers at North Carolina State University say they’ve discovered a way to create remote-controlled, robotic roaches in hopes of one day being able to aid in rescue missions by fitting into otherwise unreachable disaster zones and picking up sound with its tiny on-board microphones.


These microphones can pick up sounds, seek the source of the sound and then ultimately control its movements. Aptly called biobots, the roaches are equipped with uber-small electronic backpacks comprised of an inexpensive microcontroller and a wireless receiver/transmitter. The microcontroller is connected to the cockroach’s antennae and abdominal sensory organs, which typically detect air movement to warn of approaching predators. When these senses are instead stimulated by the MCU, the cockroach’s innate reaction causes the robotic bug to move.

Led by assistant professor Dr. Alper Bozkurt, the team has developed two types of customized backpacks using microphones. One type of biobot features a single microphone that can capture relatively high-res sound from any direction to be wirelessly transmitted to first responders; meanwhile, the later version boasts a set of three-directional microphones that detect the whereabouts of a sound and steer the biobot in that direction.

“The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter – like people calling for help – from sounds that don’t matter – like a leaking pipe. Once we’ve identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero in on where those sounds are coming from,” explains Bozkurt.

Bozkurt’s team also recently exhibited a new technology that is capable of creating an invisible fence for keeping biobots in a designated area. This is significant breakthrough as it can one day be used to keep biobots at a disaster site, and to keep the biobots within range of each other so that they can be used as a reliable mobile wireless network. This technology could also be used to steer biobots to light sources, so that the miniaturized solar panels on biobot backpacks can be recharged, the paper reveals.


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