Most people wouldn't want a cockroach anywhere near them. They're creepy, crawly and germy. In the future, however, we might look to cyborg roaches to save our lives in the case of a disaster.
In a recent study, a team of researchers at Texas A&M University implanted live cockroaches with electrodes that stimulate the nerves in the antennae, allowing the scientist to control them like remote-controlled toys.
According to Hong Liang, one of the study's authors, the objective of the study is to build the perfect cyborg roach; one that can crawl into tiny holes with recording equipment. If there's an earthquake, for example, they can be sent to the second floor with sensors and cameras for search and rescue. They can collect vital information because of their size and speed. They can also locate survivors in disaster settings such as damaged nuclear power plants or collapsed mines, reports livescience.com.
Although scientists have been attempting to control roaches' movements by implanting electrodes into their antennae and sending shocks that lead them to believe that a predator is approaching from one side, therefore leading them into the opposite direction, it has been found that they eventually stop listening.
"They're pretty smart," says Texas A&M Ph.D. student Carlos Sanchez. "In addition to that, in the wild they lose their antennae pretty frequently anyway, so they learn to adapt, to survive without using an antenna."
The unique contribution of this study is that the researchers found that if they place the electrodes in the ganglion - a cluster of neurons that control the roach's front legs - the shock makes the roach lose its balance and forces it to move in the direction desired.
Although the change in electrode placement has a current success rate of 60 percent - the other 40 percent of the time, the roach moves in the wrong direction or doesn't move at all -, the team is confident that it will reach 100 percent obedience.
The researchers glued tiny backpacks to the backs of the discoid roaches, which -- at a size of 2 inches long and an inch wide -- were large enough to support them. Each pack held a microcontroller, wireless transceiver and a battery.
It may sound cruel to control cockroaches with remote controls, but the team says that roaches do not feel pain the same way humans do. They have nerves just as humans do, but the connection between their neurons and muscles is much simpler, the team said in an interview with NPR.