The Amazing Robotic Cockroach

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What To Do With A Robotic Cockroach.

Robots do not always have to be huge lumbering metal monsters or starting to resemble their human creators. Nature has given us many examples perfected through evolution and tested by time of so many different types of biological mechanisms. These examples can be used to give engineers new approaches to robot design based on what it is the robot is meant to accomplish.

Robots are now being developed that look like snakes, hummingbirds and even the ubiquitous cockroach. The University of North Carolina has recently completed a very interesting study on the surprising abilities of a typical robotic cockroach. Of course you have to be able to get past the human response to the real creature which is usually to hit it with something hard!

New research from North Carolina State University offers insights into how far and how fast cyborg cockroaches or bio-bots move when exploring new spaces. The work moves researchers closer to their goal of using bio-bots to explore collapsed buildings and other spaces in order to identify survivors.

UC Berkeley also did a study of a robotic cockroach

UC Berkeley also did a study of a robotic cockroach

NC State researchers have developed cockroach bio-bots that can be remotely controlled and carry technology that may be used to map disaster areas and identify survivors in the wake of a calamity.

For this technology to become viable, the researchers needed to answer fundamental questions about how and where the bio-bots move in unfamiliar territory. Two forthcoming papers address those questions.

The first paper answers questions about whether bio-bot technology can accurately determine how and whether bio-bots are moving.

The researchers followed biobot movements visually and compared their actual motion to the motion being reported by the biobot’s inertial measurement units. The study found that the biobot technology was a reliable indicator of how the biobots were moving.

The second paper addresses bigger questions:

  • How far will the bio-bots travel?
  • How fast?
  • Are bio-bots more efficient at exploring space when allowed to move without guidance?
  • Or can remote-control commands expedite the process?

These questions are important because the answers could help researchers determine how many biobots they may need to introduce to an area in order to explore it effectively in a given amount of time.

For this study, researchers introduced bio-bots into a circular structure. Some bio-bots were allowed to move at will, while others were given random commands to move forward, left or right.

The researchers found that unguided bio-bots preferred to hug the wall of the circle. But by sending the bio-bots random commands, the bio-bots spent more time moving, moved more quickly and were at least five times more likely to move away from the wall and into open space.

“Our earlier studies had shown that we can use neural stimulation to control the direction of a roach and make it go from one point to another,” says Alper Bozkurt, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-author of the two papers.

This [second] study shows that by randomly stimulating the roaches we can benefit from their natural walking and instincts to search an unknown area. Their electronic backpacks can initiate these pulses without us seeing where the roaches are and let them autonomously scan a region.

“This is practical information we can use to get bio-bots to explore a space more quickly,” says Edgar Lobaton, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-author on the two papers.

That’s especially important when you consider that time is of the essence when you are trying to save lives after a disaster.

Lead author of the first paper, “A Study on Motion Mode Identification for Cyborg Roaches,” is NC State Ph.D. student Jeremy Cole. The paper was co-authored by Ph.D. student Farrokh Mohammadzadeh, undergraduate Christopher Bollinger, former Ph.D. student Tahmid Latif, Bozkurt and Lobaton.

Lead author of the second paper, “Biobotic Motion and Behavior Analysis in Response to Directional Neurostimulation,” is former NC State Ph.D. student Alireza Dirafzoon. The paper was co-authored by Latif, former Ph.D. student Fengyuan Gong, professor of electrical and computer engineering Mihail Sichitiu, Bozkurt and Lobaton.

Both papers will be presented at the 42nd IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing, being held March 5-9 in New Orleans.

The University of California Berkeley also did a very interesting study on robotic cockroach that we felt we should include.


NC State researchers have found that by sending cockroach bio-bots random commands, the bio-bots spent more time moving, moved more quickly and were at least five times more likely to move away walls and into open space. The finding is a significant advance for developing bio-bots that can search collapsed buildings and other disaster areas for survivors.

CREDIT Edgar Lobaton for NC State article details

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