A team of scientists in Japan are making progress on a creation they’re calling “Robobug” – a remote-controlled cockroach.
While the idea of cyborg roaches may seem terrifying, researchers at Riken Institute in Japan are developing them with one purpose in mind: to save people’s lives.
The remote-controlled bugs can be deployed to carry out search and rescue missions in the aftermath of an earthquake or another disaster. The tiny critters can crawl into tight spaces in rubble to look for survivors, offering a much more efficient alternative to miniature robot devices designed to do the same task, according to Kenjiro Fukuda, a senior research scientist at Riken Institute in Wako, Saitama prefecture, Japan.
“The insect itself generates power by using their muscles. So from the viewpoint of power consumption, the cyborg insect approach is much more effective than the miniature robot system,” Fukuda told USA TODAY.
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Fukuda and his team published a report outlining their progress in developing a system to control the movement of live Madagascar cockroaches in the peer-reviewed NPJ Flexible Electronics journal last month.
Scientists have been trying to perfect remote controlled critters for about a decade, said Fukuda, whose latest research solved some of the existing technology’s limitations.
“There is an important problem of recharging these systems,” Fukuda said.
Because the surface area of the bugs is so small, the tiny batteries that can be mounted on them drain quickly. So a team at Riken began in 2020 to work on a mounted solar cell system that would allow the bugs to recharge their batteries.
To do this, they equipped the roughly 2-inch insects with tiny 3D-printed backpacks along with “ultra thin” organic solar cell modules and small wires to stimulate the bugs’ legs.
The solar cells could then recharge the battery in about 30 minutes using light.
Fortunately for the bugs, the technology has little impact on their lifespan, Fukuda said, as the hardware can simply be removed after a mission.
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Fukuda said there is still more work to do because the solar cells degrade much faster than anticipated once mounted on the bugs.
Researchers also want to develop an algorithm that can command a bug to seek light when it needs to recharge during a rescue operation, said Fukuda, who hopes a fully functional rescue cyborg bug will be ready for real world application in the next 3 to 5 years.
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