N.C. State team pioneers backpack-wearing cockroaches that can explore disaster areas

Researchers at N.C. State are developing technology that equips cockroaches to enter disaster areas and send back information for search-and-rescue missions. The insects carry backpacks that contain a small microphone and radio transmitter.

These enhanced insects – dubbed biobots or cyborgs – have been developed by Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at N.C. State, and others over the past eight years. Working initially with moths and, later, cockroaches, the scientists equipped the insects to pick up sounds too distant or faint to be heard outside the rubble.

Another facet of the technology allows the insects also to send signals to one another. “It’s a neighbor-to-neighbor interaction that allows someone to build a map,” explained Edgar Lobaton, a robotics engineer and assistant professor in NCSU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “These little agents move around and continuously communicate with each other by sending out radio signals. We are learning to take this information, put it in a computer, and create a map of the area.”

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