Researchers Develop Technique to Remotely Control Cockroaches

09.05.2012 |

Remote control cockroach cyborgs

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a technique that uses an electronic interface to remotely control, or steer, cockroaches.

“Our aim was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small spaces,” says Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. “Ultimately, we think this will allow us to create a mobile web of smart sensors that uses cockroaches to collect and transmit information, such as finding survivors in a building that’s been destroyed by an earthquake.

“Building small-scale robots that can perform in such uncertain, dynamic conditions is enormously difficult,” Bozkurt says. “We decided to use biobotic cockroaches in place of robots, as designing robots at that scale is very challenging and cockroaches are experts at performing in such a hostile environment.”

Researchers were able to precisely steer the roaches along a curved line.

But you can’t just put sensors on a cockroach. Researchers needed to find a cost-effective and electrically safe way to control the roaches, to ensure the roaches operate within defined parameters – such as a disaster site – and to steer the roaches to specific areas of interest.

The new technique developed by Bozkurt’s team works by embedding a low-cost, light-weight, commercially-available chip with a wireless receiver and transmitter onto each roach (they used Madagascar hissing cockroaches). Weighing 0.7 grams, the cockroach backpack also contains a microcontroller that monitors the interface between the implanted electrodes and the tissue to avoid potential neural damage. The microcontroller is wired to the roach’s antennae and cerci.

The cerci are sensory organs on the roach’s abdomen, which are normally used to detect movement in the air that could indicate a predator is approaching – causing the roach to scurry away. But the researchers use the wires attached to the cerci to spur the roach into motion. The roach thinks something is sneaking up behind it and moves forward.

The wires attached to the antennae serve as electronic reins, injecting small charges into the roach’s neural tissue. The charges trick the roach into thinking that the antennae are in contact with a physical barrier, which effectively steers them in the opposite direction.

In a recent experiment, the researchers were able to use the microcontroller to precisely steer the roaches along a line that curves in different directions. Video of the experiment can be seen here.

The paper, “Line Following Terrestrial Insect Biobots,” was presented Aug. 28 at the 34th Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society in San Diego, Calif. The paper was authored by Tahmid Latif, a Ph.D. student at NC State, and co-authored by Bozkurt. Bozkurt has previously developed similar interfaces to steer moths, using implanted electronic backpacks.

25 Responses to “Researchers Develop Technique to Remotely Control Cockroaches”

  1. Kim Cole says:

    Here is an idea…take one of these roaches (a most clever design btw) and safely manufacture a bunch of them. Make them able to detect lead paint throughout walls in homes, places of worship, and all public facilities. Make them able to withstand the most harsh elements- heat, cold, dirt, water. Then set them loose. They have to be provided free as lead poisoning awareness is so costly. All humans under the sun must have access to the ability to live lead free lives, not just those who have 1% of the power and money, but 100% ! The simplest solutions can take many years to discover, but when we put our minds to something we want to manifest, amazing strides can be accomplished. We cannot unsee what we have seen but we can make the future views cleaner and safer for all. Please support lead poisoning awareness. Thank you. Peace. , we can begin to make great changes.

  2. [...] I’m sure the Pentagon would also love these bionic critters for other functions. Oh, and they are doing the same with moths, so I’m sure there will be biological spies flying the skies of the world sooner than we imagine. Sometimes I wonder if these people have ever watched any horror sci-fi movie. You know, the ones in which bionic moths and cockroaches kill every human on Earth. [IBionicS Laboratory via North Carolina State University] [...]

  3. Erebiel says:

    Fifth Element

  4. Ingvar Bogdahn says:

    I strongly disapprove with this kind of research and I ask you to reconsider the ethical meaning of what you are doing here. In my opinion, it is a manifestation of the human disrespectfulness, which is very harmful to this planet. You might say, well this is “only” a cockroach? It doesn’t matter. You are crossing a line, you are disrespectful towards Creation, to borrow a religous term here. Just because humans are superior in many qualities, doesn’t make humans superior. This is the very same kind of thinking that leads to facism. There are truly enough fascinating things to do research. We are all cockroaches. Stop treating animals like things.
    “la science sans conscience n’est que ruine de l’âme”.
    Written by a graduate biologist.


    is it possible to mount a camera on them. I have a commercial use of looking for an endangered Australian flower in an area 100metres x100metres with a grid of 2 metres the flower is hid amongst tall grasses. The grid has GPS points along its path and turning points.

  6. Justin says:

    can we get a remote control APP for this? Android, iOS, but no Windows Phone though.


  7. Adam Howard Cross says:

    Completely agree with Ingvar Bogdahn here – there are so many avenues to explore without going down the abhorrent path of using creatures that can’t voice their objection to your apparent disregard for life and the rights of species other than homo sapiens.

  8. [...] They also recently started a Twitter sentiment visualization, which can show how Twitter users are feeling about everything from the health care debate to NC State’s research on remote-controlled cockroaches. [...]

  9. Sooty says:

    If you are comparing insects to humans in protesting this, you are living your life incorrectly, and have reached a pathological state that should be addressed by psychological counseling.

    Summary: Sweet Smoking Jesus, these are cockroaches. They have neural nets instead of real brains. They are not sapient. If you are really all “value ALL life!” in your thinking, why are you not out volunteering with every spare moment.

  10. Ur Nutz says:

    Hey Ingvar and Adam, I have been unthinkingly killing hundreds of roaches using commercially available sprays and gels. I am willing to instead capture them and send them to you as rescue insects so you can find them a good home. Please send me your addresses…. Application: Hook them up for a game interface and sell them for ghettoites to use with their big screen tv’s and video games.

  11. In the novella “Phantom Sense,” Rick and I explored the use of hybrid insects as military surveillance platforms, with the added twist of a man/insect interface and the PTSD that would result from the disruption of that link.

    The ethics of using electrical impulses to control behavior should be an ongoing topic – but not immediately denounced. Our society is also administers drugs to children to control ADHD (without their informed consent), we use refined behavioral modification to control pets, and we have no qualms about initiating genocide against agricultural pests.

    Point is, the line between monsters and miracles is subjective. Only continuing discussion between informed parties will put us in the right place.


  12. Eric says:

    From what I’m reading, they’re not directly controlling the cockroach’s brain (which, I believe, would have unethical concerns if that sort of technology continues). They are just tricking it into thinking it’s running into obstacles and whatnot. It’s about the same idea with horses and dogs, except instead of tricking them, we just use reins or sound cues. I don’t believe fooling cockroaches is any less ethical than putting horses on reins or training a dog to follow orders. Unless you think those are unethical too, then fair enough…

  13. [...] The Abstract for the entire article and method. Share this:FacebookTwitterDiggStumbleUponPinterestTumblrGoogle [...]

  14. [...] 3: Is the finding really freaking cool? If you’re working on a Martian tumbleweed rover, steering cockroaches by remote control, or doing anything else that will get people's attention, please let me know. For example, if [...]

  15. Robbie Lynn Hunsinger says:

    This is disgusting, cruel and unethical. It also sets a frightening precedent that encourages using this technology with other animals including us. I do not understand a University condoning this experiment on live creatures no matter how far down our human scale of value they fall. There are living creatures that you are shocking into controlled movements for what…your entertainment? for fame?

    This is a really dangerous and immoral.

    I urge you to discontinue this cruel work.

    I use the Kinect for many purposes and I also am a programmer and use interactive sensors, motors and microcontrollers.

    Can you really not think of a better purpose for all this time and energy? I create interactive audiovisual work and am hoping to help someone with a disability gain more access and control over their home.

    Can you not think of something better to do with all this than torture insects with a Kinect and electronics?

  16. [...] team had previously developed the technology that would allow users to steer cockroaches remotely, but the use of Kinect to develop an [...]

  17. [...] roach gets moving through some clever biological trickery. Researchers wire sensors to the roach’s external sensory organs, which causes the bug to [...]

  18. [...] aim was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small spaces,” said Alper Bozkurt, an [...]

  19. [...] aim was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small spaces,” said Alper Bozkurt, an [...]

  20. The attempt is good, but not worth the cost and dexterity involved. The artificial neurons should be trained to replace the roaches.

  21. [...] Fuentes e imágenes | Popular Science, The Abstract [...]

  22. […] so just a pair of related links for tonight. The topic is ‘biobots’ — i.e., remote-controlled cockroaches — and new ways to use […]

  23. […] seen researchers control a cockroach by manipulating it’s antenna to think it’s in danger on one side or the other, this led […]

  24. […] Previous works from North Carolina State University researchers back in 2012 have developed a technique to control roaches remotely, or rather to steer them. Their objective of the research was to create small probes or counterparts which can be directed at will and able to reach small spaces. This will enable them to create a mobile web of smart sensors that uses cockroaches to collect and transmit information, such as finding survivors in a building that’s been destroyed by an earthquake. Flying insects like the roach are resilient and able to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. However, it is pretty impossible to just mount a sensor on a roach’s back, as cost-effective and electrically safe way to control those critters is needed to ensure that they operate within the defined parameters. It is important, for example, that they operate as accurately as possible in a disaster site and is able to be steered towards a specific area of interest. The result of the research looks pretty promising as they were able to to precisely steer the roaches along a curved line. [Source] […]

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