Remote-control cyborg cockroaches – part insect, part machine – have been created by Japanese scientists, who hope swarms could be used to check hazardous radioactive sites, or monitor the environment.
Madagascan cockroaches, two inches long, were fitted with tiny leg-control electrodes connected to backpacks containing ultrathin solar panels. The team from Riken Cluster for Pioneering Research in Tokyo, made the insects turn left or right, while the solar panels kept the animals under control for more than a month.
Dr Masataka Sasabe of Riken Global Communications said: “Keeping the battery adequately charged is fundamental – nobody wants a suddenly out-of-control team of cyborg cockroaches roaming around.
“While it’s possible to build docking stations for recharging the battery, the need to return and recharge could disrupt time-sensitive missions.
“Therefore, the best solution is to include an on-board solar cell that can continuously ensure that the battery stays charged.”
Fitting solar panels to an insect is not easy. Scientists first scanned the cockroaches before 3D printing the electronic devices using a special flexible material which fit snugly around the thorax, allowing it to still move easily.
Early attempts where the solar cells were too thick, or too rigidly attached, saw the cockroaches having difficulty righting themselves on their backs, and running slower.
Many labs are trying to mimic swarms by creating miniature robots, but the Riken team believes it is simpler to use actual animals, and hope to move to flying insects.
They said it was important to use flexible electronics to allow the insects to move easily.
Lead scientist Dr Kenjiro Fukuda, said: “Considering the deformation of the thorax and abdomen during basic locomotion, a hybrid electronic system of rigid and flexible elements in the thorax and ultrasoft devices in the abdomen appears to be an effective design for cyborg cockroaches.
“Since abdominal deformation is not unique to cockroaches, our strategy can be adapted to other insects like beetles, or perhaps even flying insects like cicadas in the future.”
The research was in Flexible Electronics.
Telegraph Media Group Limited