Cyborg roaches could be used to map collapsed buildings

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed software that allows them to map unknown environments – such as collapsed buildings – based on the movement of a swarm of insect cyborgs, or “biobots.”

“We focused on how to map areas where you have little or no precise information on where each biobot is, such as a collapsed building where you can’t use GPS technology,” says Dr. Edgar Lobaton, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper on the research.

A swarm of biobots, such as remotely controlled cockroaches, would be equipped with electronic sensors and released into a collapsed building or other hard-to-reach area. The biobots would initially be allowed to move about randomly. Because the biobots couldn’t be tracked by GPS, their precise locations would be unknown. However, the sensors would signal researchers via radio waves whenever biobots got close to each other.


Remote control cyborg cockroach from the movie The Fifth Element

Once the swarm has had a chance to spread out, the researchers would send a signal commanding the biobots to keep moving until they find a wall or other unbroken surface – and then continue moving along the wall. This is called “wall following.”

The researchers repeat this cycle of random movement and “wall following” several times, continually collecting data from the sensors whenever the biobots are near each other. The new software then uses an algorithm to translate the biobot sensor data into a rough map of the unknown environment.

“This would give first responders a good idea of the layout in a previously unmapped area,” Lobaton says.

Topological Mapping of Unknown Environments using an Unlocalized Robotic Swarm

The software would also allow public safety officials to determine the location of radioactive or chemical threats, if the biobots have been equipped with the relevant sensors.

The researchers have tested the software using computer simulations and are currently testing the program with robots.

NBF – computer controlled roaches could also have tiny explosives or poisons and could be weaponized in other ways.

Fifth Element Cockroach

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