Cyborg cockroaches sound terrifying but could save lives

Posted at 11:04 PM, Sep 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-12 23:04:14-04

Could a cyborg cockroach be trained to come to your rescue in a natural disaster?

That's what researchers in North Carolina are trying to figure out.

"We are raised with a phobia against insects,” Dr. Alper Bozkurt, with the NC State University said. "Cockroaches are our friends."

The doctor has a soft spot for Madagascar hissing cockroaches. He's an assistant professor in computer and electrical engineering at NC State University, and he's working to turn these insects into cyborgs.

"We implant electrodes to their antennae and we send tiny pulses, very small pulses, to their antennae."

As it walks, the insect feels the pulses, believes they are obstacles and moves to avoid them.

It took a few tries -- but Bozkurt and his assistant found a cockroach that walked the line set for them. As the assistant moves a joystick, the roach responds, moving around a U-shaped track.

This kind of research isn't just interesting to watch, it could mark the start of a new era in search and rescue after disasters.

"Our ultimate goal is to use cockroaches in the rubble after natural disasters, like earthquakes, to find victims,” Bozkurt said.

These remote-controlled cockroaches could find their way through cramped, dark spaces, carrying tiny microphones and listening for survivors.

Bozkurt and other scientists still have to work out the bugs, But these cockroaches could someday save your life.