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Eric Whitmire/North Carolina State University

Cockroaches With Microphones Could Help Save Lives

Cockroaches scuttling around with microphone backpacks sound pretty weird, but their ability to inch their way into tiny nooks and crannies makes them the ideal rescue squad. 

SCIENCEALERT STAFF
7 NOV 2014

Over the past few years, scientists have started making remote-controlled cyborg insects that could serve as secret spies performing a range of missions, from mapping unknown environments to providing surveillance. Scientists have now found yet another use for cyborg insects - cockroaches with microphone backpacks that could save your life. 

 

A team of researchers from North Carolina State University in the US has managed to implant tiny microphones in cyborg cockroaches that allow them to trace the source of sounds. Presenting their research at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Sensors conference in Spain this week, the team said sound is one of the best ways to locate people who are in trouble.

Each cyborg cockroach is fitted with an electronic backpack that's wired into its nervous system, which allows its movements to be controlled remotely. The backpack is also equipped with one of two types of microphones - either a single microphone that detects high-resolution sound from any direction, or an array of three directional microphones that can detect where the sound is coming from. The sounds are sent back to the cockroach command centre - a system which analyses the location of the sound and steers the cockroach in that direction. 

“The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter – like people calling for help – from sounds that don’t matter – like a leaking pipe,” said Alper Bozkurt, electrical engineer and one of the team, in a press release. “Once we’ve identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero in on where those sounds are coming from.”

We know what you're thinking, but don’t worry - these cyborg cockroaches won’t be wandering off and accidentally ending up on your kitchen floor any time soon. In an earlier study, the team designed an invisible fence to keep the cockroaches confined to the disaster site. The invisible fence places an electrical stimulus at a boundary to guide the cockroaches back to the site. Not only does this prevent them from slacking off on the job, it also allows them to work as a team by creating a reliable mobile wireless network. 

The team is now working on fine-tuning the microphone so that it can accurately pick up sounds that are further away.

So next time you try to squash a cockroach, remember that it has potential to rescue you from a burning building.

Watch this video to see how the microphone system works:

Source: North Carolina State University