As if robot cockroaches weren’t already swarming the top of my nightmare chart, real cockroaches are fighting hard to catch up. And this time, they’re using Microsoft Kinect to do it. (Not by, like, stacking a bunch of the units on top of each other, but by much more nefarious methods.)
Much like the remote-controlled cockroaches that have already made June 2013 the month I wanted to begin a career in mass extermination, this story also involves electronically controlled insects, though these are left with a tad more independence. Researchers from North Carolina designed a DIY method of turning roaches into robots just over a year ago, but now they’ve implemented the Kinect system in order to give the roach some passive guidance.
Wires are inserted into the roaches’ sensory organs, which propel them forward, and “small charges injected into the roach’s neural tissue trick the roach into thinking its antennae are hitting a barrier,” and the roach will instinctively turn. A digital pathway was created by a computer, with invisible boundaries keeping the roach on its path, and by pointing the Kinect at the insect, its movements can be monitored and recorded. (They should use this WiFi tracker one day.) Take a look at the oddly silent test video below.
Left! Right! 1,2,3, red light! This isn’t just all incredibly disgusting fun and games for the roach-enhancing research team. The eventual goal is to integrate neo-roaches into dangerous situations in areas where humans or smaller robots can’t get into, such as collapsed buildings. An audio enhancement may be on the way as well, where speakers would be applied to allow one-way communication to people trapped or injured. (And in the off time, they’re jamming Poison at full volume.)
Study co-author Dr. Alper Bozkurt explains:
Our goal is to be able to guide these roaches as efficiently as possible, and our work with Kinect is helping us do that. We want to build on this program, incorporating mapping and radio frequency techniques that will allow us to use a small group of cockroaches to explore and map disaster sites. The autopilot program would control the roaches, sending them on the most efficient routes to provide rescuers with a comprehensive view of the situation.
It’s an admirably icky goal, and I certainly give them my full support. Although I have to say, if I’m ever trapped inside a collapsed buildijng, the exact opposite of what I want to see is a robotic roach with a human voice emanating from it.
Want to know how to make your own robo-roach? Take a look at the following video and prepare your surgical team.