North Carolina State University researchers are using video game technology to remotely control cockroaches on autopilot, with a computer steering the cockroach through a controlled environment. (Photo : Alper Bozkurt)
Researchers from North Carolina State University are injecting a dose of fun into their cockroach research with video games. By using Microsoft's motion-sensing Xbox apparatus, Kinect, they've figured out how to control a cockroach in real life.
While working with cockroaches can come off as nasty business, this video game roach could one day used to save lives. The team of scientists hope that with the proper fine tuning, a remotely-controlled roach could one day be used in disaster search-and-rescue scenarios, such as mapping out a collapsed building and finding survivors.
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"Our goal is to be able to guide these roaches as efficiently as possible, and our work with Kinect is helping us do that," says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an electrical and computer engineering professor at NC State and one of the authors on the study detailing the project.
"We want to build on this program, incorporating mapping and radio frequency techniques that will allow us to use a small group of cockroaches to explore and map disaster sites," Bozkurt says. "The autopilot program would control the roaches, sending them on the most efficient routes to provide rescuers with a comprehensive view of the situation."
The cockroach is controlled through an implanted digital interface that stimulates the cockroach's antennae and cerci - two sensory organs that if manipulated correctly, can cause the roach to believe a barrier or predator is near and scurry away. The Microsoft Kinect is used to track and monitor the roach's progress, leading it along a predetermined path.
Eventually, the NC State researchers wish to outfit the cockroach with more sensors, such as so that the little bugger will be more specialized for disaster scenarios.
"We may even be able to attach small speakers, which would allow rescuers to communicate with anyone who is trapped," Bozkurt said.