Skip to main content

Cyborg cockroaches with sensor ‘backpacks’ could help find disaster victims

team of scientists develop cyborg cockroaches to detect disaster victims cockroach cyborgs mem 1
Eric Whitmire/NCSU
Cockroaches are pesky and downright disgusting creatures, there’s no doubt about it. But what if we told you someone figured out a way to make these annoying insects incredibly useful after an earthquake hits? You’d think twice before sending one to its maker with the heel of your boot next time it invades your space, right? Well, a team of bioboticists at North Carolina State University plans to start running real-world tests of a revolutionary program which tasks cyborg cockroaches — that’s their own kick-ass phrase, not ours — with sniffing out survivors trapped underneath rubble. Seriously.

From the brilliant mind of Alper Bozkurt and his colleagues at NCSU, these enhanced critters will essentially comb through disaster areas, equipped with electronic bridles capable of picking up sounds. Each electrode stimulates a cockroach’s antennae and gives them directions on how to navigate through a particular area. For instance, if the electrode signals an object to the left of one of these robo-roaches, then it heads right instead of running into the blockade. Because of a cockroach’s impeccable ability to traverse a less than ideal landscape, the team knew they’d be perfect for the project.

Each cockroach also carries a sensor backpack which allows the team to control them in two unique ways. First, a drone beams a series of invisible parameters — called radio fences — which confine the roaches to search a particular area without venturing off. One of the scientists equates the drone’s radio fence to being a “leader that can guide the swarm to explore a large environment.”

The team also uses the sensor backpacks to create one network which tethers each cockroach to each other. Once one of the cyborg roaches picks up valuable information during a search, it sends the info to the roach closest to the drone which then transmits it to the team. Each backpack also continuously monitors the signal strength of the insects, assuring none loses contact with the rest of the group.

During a search, most cockroaches make use of a low-resolution microphone attached to its backpack to help detect any nearby sounds. If one picks up a sound, it signals for other members of the pack — including those outfitted with a high-resolution microphone — to head in its direction to pinpoint an exact location. After honing in on a potential sound (i.e. survivors), the sensor transmits the data to the drone and alerts the team.

For now, Bozkurt and his team only developed these sensors for detecting sound in rubble but noted various types of sensors could be added to the cockroaches in the future. From infrared sensors capable of detecting warm bodies to propane sensors and Geiger counters, Bozkurt intends to make these insects versatile for a bevy of situations. Though this unique technology has only been tested in a series of simulations — the team plans to do real-life tests by the end of the summer — a world in which cyborg cockroaches play the role of hero doesn’t seem that far off.

Editors' Recommendations

Rick Stella
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Rick became enamored with technology the moment his parents got him an original NES for Christmas in 1991. And as they say…
A.I. cameras could help stomp out wildfires before they become disastrous
smart sensor wildfires detection wildfire

Helping Fight Wildfires with AI, IoT and Weather technology

This summer marks one year since California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever. And while not for a second diminishing the devastation caused by that disaster, it’s not an isolated event. Many countries around the world are experiencing unprecedented heat waves, which pose similar fire risks. Could cutting-edge technology help?

Read more
Digital Trends’ Tech For Change CES 2023 Awards
Digital Trends CES 2023 Tech For Change Award Winners Feature

CES is more than just a neon-drenched show-and-tell session for the world’s biggest tech manufacturers. More and more, it’s also a place where companies showcase innovations that could truly make the world a better place — and at CES 2023, this type of tech was on full display. We saw everything from accessibility-minded PS5 controllers to pedal-powered smart desks. But of all the amazing innovations on display this year, these three impressed us the most:

Samsung's Relumino Mode
Across the globe, roughly 300 million people suffer from moderate to severe vision loss, and generally speaking, most TVs don’t take that into account. So in an effort to make television more accessible and enjoyable for those millions of people suffering from impaired vision, Samsung is adding a new picture mode to many of its new TVs.
[CES 2023] Relumino Mode: Innovation for every need | Samsung
Relumino Mode, as it’s called, works by adding a bunch of different visual filters to the picture simultaneously. Outlines of people and objects on screen are highlighted, the contrast and brightness of the overall picture are cranked up, and extra sharpness is applied to everything. The resulting video would likely look strange to people with normal vision, but for folks with low vision, it should look clearer and closer to "normal" than it otherwise would.
Excitingly, since Relumino Mode is ultimately just a clever software trick, this technology could theoretically be pushed out via a software update and installed on millions of existing Samsung TVs -- not just new and recently purchased ones.

Read more
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more