The Daily Telegraph

Cyborg cockroache­s designed to search radioactiv­e zones

- By Sarah Knapton SCIENCE EDITOR Flexible Electronic­s.

‘Nobody wants a suddenly out-of-control team of cyborg cockroache­s roaming around’

ENTOMOPHOB­ICS may want to look away now.

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

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