NCSU professor's remote-controlled cockroaches built to save lives

Posted September 11, 2013 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated September 11, 2013 6:47 p.m. EDT

— Remote-controlled cars and airplanes are nothing new, but a North Carolina State University professor hopes his remote-controlled cockroaches catch on – not for entertainment, but as a way to save people in life-threatening situations.

“We are raised with a phobia against insects,” said Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Cockroaches are our friends.”

Bozkurt and his colleagues received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create insect cyborgs – living cockroaches outfitted with artificial implants.

“We implant electrodes to their antennae, and we send tiny pulses – very small pulses – to their antennae,” he said.

Using a remote control, Bozkurt and his colleagues can direct the Madagascar hissing cockroaches where to crawl. As it walks, the insect feels the pulses, believes they are obstacles and moves to avoid them.

“Our ultimate goal is to use cockroaches in the rubble after a natural disaster to find victims,” Bozkurt said, adding that he wants the insects to be able to remotely crawl through cramped, dark spaces, carrying tiny microphones, so rescuers can search through the debris.

Bozkurt and his colleagues recently teamed with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study ways to control moths as well.