An assistant professor at North Carolina State University, Dr. Alper Bozkurt, has developed a way to remotely control insects, just as one can remotely control toy cars or helicopters. Beginning with a Madagascar hissing cockroach, he created a “biobot.”
“We implant electrodes in the muscles and the sensory organs of the insects,” Bozkurt said. “We then send very tiny electrical pulses, depending on where the implant is, if it is in the muscle, it creates an actuation of the insect. If the implant is in the sensor organ, it sort of simulates environmental signals and makes the insect think it’s sensing something. A cockroach navigates by using the antenna to understand the physical environment–like a blind person using fingers to understand the surroundings to get a feel of the 3D environment around them. The implant simulates that.”
Next, Dr. Bozkurt tried to repeat the process with a hawk moth, along with Dr. Tyson L. Hedrick from the University of North Carolina, and they were able to initiate and stop flight and make the moth turn right or left via the remote control.
The biobot cockroaches could one day be used for rescue missions to search for earthquake victims or others who have been affected by natural disasters. The hope is to allow the insects a degree of autonomy so they can get out of holes by themselves, while at the same time being able to control them when needed. Bozkurt and his team received a million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation for the project.
This video shows a remote controlled cockroach following a path:
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