Cyborg Cockroach Uses Sound to Find Disaster Survivors

Researchers at North Carolina State University developed a method of finding disaster survivors using cockroaches. With a circuit board connected to a bug’s brain, various sounds to include human voices are picked up. These and other researchers are excited with the result of the experiment and believe that one day, cyborg cockroaches will save lives.

There are actually two types of “electronic backpacks” used. One is designed with a single multi-directional microphone to help capture relatively high-resolution echo, which is then sent via signal to rescuers. The second backpack boasts several three-dimensional microphones used to identify the sound’s position, which attracts the insect to that location.

While there are numerous scenarios in which cyborg cockroaches would be beneficial, researchers feel a collapsed building is ideal. In a situation such as this, a group of cockroaches would be sent into the rubble, taking advantage of their small size to reach tiny spaces. Once one or more survivors are found, rescuers are provided a signal that identifies an exact location.

One issue that researchers faced is the bugs veering off into the wrong direction based on sound. To overcome this potential obstacle, the bugs are contained within an “invisible fence” to ensure the two cyborg cockroaches do not become separated or move outside the range of one another.

The “backpack” is also designed to guide the insects to light sources, which using solar power, keeps the circuit boards charged. Not only can these bugs reach small spaces in disaster situations, they have the ability to work for days at a time, if necessary.

One of the scientists working on the project, Dr. Alper Bozkurt, said that technology is available to aid in search and rescue operations. By using rich-in-resolution microphones in backpacks worn by cyborg cockroaches, the ability to differentiate between trivial and important sounds is possible.

Dr. Bozkurt added that after the various sounds of importance are recognized, the backpack-wearing cockroaches can focus on individual sounds, as well as the location from where they originate. As imagined, in various disaster situations, these tiny insects can accomplish things that man cannot.