Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Robo-Roach Rescue

By Magdeline Lum

A microelectronic controller could soon make cockroaches useful in dangerous search-and-rescue and reconnaissance missions.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Cyborg insects have long been suggested as the next big thing in search-and-rescue as miniaturised electronics are not just becoming economically viable but also more powerful.

The scenario of attaching electronics to insects sent in through the cracks of collapsed rubble to relay information back to would-be rescuers is within reach, but one major barrier to this scenario is building a mechanical insect with the range of natural movement and capability. Instead, Dr Alper Bozkurt and PhD student Tahmid Latif of North Carolina State University used the Madagascar hissing cockroach to see whether insects could be used to perform tasks.

Training insects to do useful work is not a new idea. Wasps, bees and moths have been studied in the past decade to see whether they could be trained to detect minute amounts of chemicals in order to search out explosives and toxic chemicals.

Cockroaches have survived for 250 million years, withstanding drastic climate changes in that time. They have the ability to survive with little or no food for months. This ability to survive makes cockroaches suitable as possible reconnaissance agents in areas considered too dangerous for humans to enter.

Madagascar hissing cockroaches are wingless but they are excellent climbers on rough and smooth surfaces – ideal characteristics for rummaging through debris.

The...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.