Scientists Can Remotely Control Cyborg Cockroaches… for Reasons

Scientist designed a rig to control the movements of cockroaches. Instead of using it to remove them from my kitchen cabinets, the 3D-printed backpack makes the cyborg cockroaches turn right or left as they walk. So why did they do this? Well, because earlier attempts at creating cyborg insects, like bomb-sniffing locusts, needed more power. The last thing you want is to create a cyborg cockroach and then lose control of it. This version includes a rechargeable battery. It connects to a super thin solar cell glued onto the cockroach’s abdomen. The scientists now have a remote-controlled Robobug.

Graphic showing a cockroach wearing a 3D printed backpack with solar panels
Yujiro Kakei et al, npj Flexible Electronics (2022)

As shown in the graphic above, the backpack fits onto the thorax. Wires connect to the cockroach’s cerci, small appendages at the base of its abdomen. There’s one on the right and one on the left. Stimulating each causes the bug to move in that direction. In order to accommodate the backpack and solar cell, the scientists had to use big bugs. They worked with Madagascar cockroaches, which are almost 2.5 inches long. The peer-reviewed journal npj Flexible Electronics published the results, which we first saw on Futurism. You can check out video of the trials to see these enormous bugs controlled by the push of a button.  

A live cockroach wearing a 3D printed backpack with solar panels
Yujiro Kakei et al, npj Flexible Electronics (2022)

But again, why do this? It’s a step in the process towards cyborg insects, fixing the power problem and proving the rigs can be miniaturized. But why are we putting backpacks on cockroaches and trying to control their movements in the first place? The researchers cite urban search and rescue operations as a possible application. In which case, we’ve seen a few other ideas recently to meet that need. Including trained rats wearing backpacks and robots that move like lizards. If trapped in rubble, which would you want to come to your rescue? 

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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