Another robot-roach

Researchers at Tsukuba and Tokyo University are surgically implanting roaches with a micro-robotic backpack that allows them to control its movements.

The team equip some of the insects with microprocessor and electrode sets in "backpacks". Before surgery, they gas the roach with carbon dioxide, then remove wings and antennae. Where the antennae used to be scientists fit pulse-emitting electrodes. With a remote, they send signals to the backpacks, which stimulate the electrodes. The pulsing electrodes make the roach turn left, turn right, scamper forward or spring backward.

Only the American cockroach, Perplaneta Americana, can be used in the research because it is the biggest and hardiest of the species, capable of carrying 20 times its own weight.


Unfortunately spammers are emailing the roaches when they broadcast to cell phones. "We had an incident last week where we sent a roach into an duct to test for an air leak, when we asked the roach to turn right, it responded by asking for our email addresses and offered to send us viagra in return." said Assistant Professor Isao Shimoyama, head of the bio-robot research team at Tokyo University.

"Insects can do many things that people can't," he added. Within a few years, electronically controlled insects carrying mini-cameras or other sensory devices could crawl through earthquake rubble to search for victims, or slip under doors on espionage surveillance.

"They are not very nice insects," Raphael Holzer confesses. "They are a little bit smelly, and there's something about the way they move their antennae. But they look nicer when you put a little circuit on their backs and remove their wings."