Randall Munroe answers some absurd questions; Danielle George reveals what’s in store for this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures; Jim Al-Khalili explores the strange world of quantum biology
Disaster response teams could be recruiting workers from the insect world in the future. A motion-sensing system developed by researchers at North Carolina State University transforms cockroaches into ‘biobots’, which could scurry into a disaster site and look for survivors.
The cockroaches can be controlled thanks to a wireless microchip backpack weighing just 0.7 grams. This directs electrical impulses to the cockroach’s antennae, tricking the roach into thinking it has hit a physical barrier and causing it to change direction.
A cockroach models its microchip backpack (image credit: Alper Bozkurt)
By incorporating Microsoft’s Kinect system, usually used in video game technology, the cockroaches can even be controlled on autopilot. As the roach moves along a digitally plotted route, the Kinect system remotely monitors its progress and corrects any drifting from the path.
Kinect is also able to collect data on how the cockroach responds to the electrical impulses. This will allow researchers to fine-tune the technology and steer the cyber-roaches more accurately.
The scientists hope that the cockroaches will eventually be able to map disaster sites such as collapsed buildings. “The autopilot program would control the roaches, sending them on the most efficient routes to provide rescuers with a comprehensive view of the situation,” says Dr Alper Bozkurt. “We may even be able to attach small speakers, which would allow rescuers to communicate with anyone who is trapped.”
By Katy Sheen