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"Cyberoaches" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed software that allows them to map unknown environments--such as collapsed buildings--based on the movement of a swarm of insect cyborgs, or "biobots."

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Roach control.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

The resilient, curious, resourceful cockroach--researchers from North Carolina State University have developed software that, when coupled with biorobotics, harnesses the roving nature and enc-roach-ment ability of these insects to map areas inaccessible to humans.

These wouldn't be your standard roaches. They would be insect cyborgs or "bio-bots" each remotely controlled, and equipped with electronic sensors. They don't have GPS, but the sensors would signal researchers via radio waves whenever biobots got close to each other.

(Sound effect: emergency scene) Here's how it might work: Say there's a collapsed building, and responders need to get an idea of the underlying topography. GPS won't function there, but a swarm of remote controlled bio-bots could be released into the danger zone.

At first, they're allowed to move randomly. Once they spread out, a signal tells them: "Keep moving until you find a wall, and then follow along it." This cycle would be repeated several times, with the sensors providing data whenever the biobots are near each other. The team's new software would translate that data to give first responders a good idea of the layout of a previously unmapped area.

A novel way to help humans--this also could be good for the cockroaches' overall reputation.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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