You walk into a dark kitchen and turn on the light. On the floor in front of you is a roach. A roach wearing a backpack. It doesn’t run, it doesn’t hide. It looks up at you and motions a leg as if to beckon you to follow it. You do because you know this is how it’s going to end. The only question is … is that day already here?
According to an article in the current edition of the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, researchers at Texas A&M University, led by materials scientist Hong Liang, attached tiny backpacks to American (Periplaneta americana) and discoid (Blaberus discoidalis) cockroaches using paint because glue won’t stick to the backs of roaches (something to remember when trying to catch a rampaging cyborg roach). Wires ran from the backpacks to nerves that controlled the roaches’ legs.
Why would you do this, Hong Liang?
Insects can do things a robot cannot. They can go into small places, sense the environment, and if there’s movement, from a predator say, they can escape much better than a system designed by a human.
So roaches carrying tiny video cameras, microphones and sensors could be sent into places where humans won’t or can’t go.
How did the cyborg roach test work? When the roaches were tethered, they could be steered about 70% of the time. Roaming free, it only worked 60% of the time. Liang and her colleagues are now developing a noninvasive version of their remote-control system for roaches that will use a vibrating motor positioned near the antennae to make them move their legs.
What could possibly go wrong? Plenty.
Liang has already pointed out that roaches are better at escaping from predators than humans. They’re also better at escaping FROM humans. In addition, the roaches seem to be having an effect on Liang.
When I first saw them, my hair stood up. But I went on to keep some in my office as pets for a while. They are actually beautiful creatures.
Uh-oh. And don’t forget – these are TEXAS roaches. They grow everything bigger in Texas.
Should we be making cyborg insects? Are we approaching the day of the roaches? Or are we already there?