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Now, robotic cockroaches to explore hard-to-reach spaces

Remote control cockroach cyborgs. Photo: North Carolina State University.

WASHINGTON (PTI): Scientists have developed a new software that allows them to map dangerous or unknown spaces - such as collapsed buildings - based on the movement of a swarm of insect cyborgs or remotely controlled cockroaches.

The software could also help determine the location of radioactive or chemical threats, if the cyborg bugs or biobots are equipped with the relevant sensors, according to researchers from North Carolina State University.

"We focused on how to map areas where you have little or no precise information on where each biobot is, such as a collapsed building where you can't use GPS technology," said Dr Edgar Lobaton, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper on the research.

"One characteristic of biobots is that their movement can be somewhat random. We're exploiting that random movement to work in our favour," Lobaton said.

Researchers explain how the idea would work in the field.

A swarm of biobots, such as remotely controlled cockroaches, would be equipped with electronic sensors and released into a collapsed building or other hard-to-reach area.

The biobots would initially be allowed to move about randomly. Because the biobots couldn't be tracked by GPS, their precise locations would be unknown. However, the sensors would signal researchers via radio waves whenever biobots got close to each other.

Once the swarm has had a chance to spread out, the researchers would send a signal commanding the biobots to keep moving until they find a wall or other unbroken surface - and then continue moving along the wall. This is called "wall following", researchers said.

The researchers repeat this cycle of random movement and "wall following" several times, continually collecting data from the sensors whenever the biobots are near each other.

The new software then uses an algorithm to translate the biobot sensor data into a rough map of the unknown environment.

The researchers have tested the software using computer simulations and are currently testing the programme with robots.


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