Scientists create a COCKROACH cyborg with a solar-powered ‘backpack’ that can be remotely steered

While it may sound like something that has crawled out of your nightmares, cyborg cockroaches have arrived as friends, not enemies.

Scientists in Japan have designed a new remote-controlled insect, which is equipped with a battery-powered backpack powered by solar panels.

The cockroach, which is part insect and part other, aims to enter dangerous areas, monitor the environment or perform search and rescue missions without the need to recharge.

Researchers from RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research had to pack some ingredients into a small package to allow for all the natural motions of the crickets.

Lead author Kenjiro Fukuda said: “The body-mounted ultra-thin organic solar cell module achieves an output power of 17.2 MW, which is more than 50 times the power output of current state-of-the-art energy collectors on live insects. ”

Researchers at RIKEN, Japan have created remote-controlled cyborg cockroaches, equipped with a controller powered by a rechargeable battery attached to a solar cell

The cockroach, part of the insect and the machine, is intended to enter dangerous areas or monitor the environment without the need for recharging

The cockroach, part of the insect and the machine, is intended to enter dangerous areas or monitor the environment without the need for recharging

What does a cyborg cockroach fit in?

  • Wireless Leg Controller – Controls the movement of the leg parts, making the cockroach turn left or right. Mounts in a 3D-printed backpack attached to the bug’s chest.
  • Rechargeable Lithium Polymer Battery – This is necessary to operate the mechanical components and is also part of the 3D Printed Backpack.
  • Ultra-thin Flexible Solar Cell – This 4 micrometer thick solar cell charges the battery and is mounted on the top of the cockroach’s abdomen. It is designed to flex with the abdomen so as not to restrict the movement of the insect while walking.

Cockroaches, best known for their ability to survive a nuclear war, have been the inspiration for a number of technologies in recent years.

Various teams of scientists have designed remote-controlled robotic insects that can climb walls, carry objects and find humans during search and rescue missions.

The crickets are still alive, but wires attached to two of the ‘cerci’ – the sensory organs at the end of their stomachs – send out electrical impulses that cause the insect to move right or left.

The battery is necessary to transmit and receive these electrical signals, which must be charged.

While it is possible to build docking stations to recharge the battery, the need to return and recharge can disrupt time-sensitive tasks.

The RIKEN team wanted to create a more practical version that didn’t need to go back to the processor or docking station when it ran out of power.

Therefore, they designed an onboard solar cell that can constantly ensure the cockroach remains charged while it is working.

However, cockroaches have limited surface area for all the components needed to move and maintain their legs.

The solution posted today in npj flexible electronicsto design a special “backpack” that can precisely hold both the wireless leg controller and a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery.

This insect top was attached to its chest, and was 3D printed to perfectly fit the curved surface of a Madagascar cockroach or Gromphadorhina portentosa.

This rigid electronic device was allowed to be attached firmly to the insect for well over a month, while leaving room elsewhere on the body for planting the solar panels.

Cockroaches, famous for their ability to survive a nuclear war, have been the inspiration for a number of technologies in recent years (stock image)

Cockroaches, famous for their ability to survive a nuclear war, have been the inspiration for a number of technologies in recent years (stock image)

The backpack is attached to the top of the insect's chest, and has been 3D printed to perfectly match the curved surface of the Madagascar cockroach.

The backpack is attached to the top of the insect’s chest, and has been 3D printed to perfectly match the curved surface of the Madagascar cockroach.

A 0.004 mm thick organic solar cell module was installed on the dorsal side of the cockroach's abdomen.  However, researchers found that the abdomen changed shape as the cockroach moved

A 0.004 mm thick organic solar cell module was installed on the dorsal side of the cockroach’s abdomen. However, researchers found that the abdomen changed shape as the cockroach moved

Therefore, when attached to a thick membrane, the insect took twice as long to walk a set distance, and had difficulty correcting itself when on its back.

Therefore, when attached to a thick membrane, the insect took twice as long to walk a set distance, and had difficulty correcting itself when on its back.

A 0.004 mm thick organic solar cell module was installed on the dorsal side of the cockroach’s abdomen.

However, the researchers found that the abdomen changed shape as the cockroach moved.

When fitted with a thickened membrane, the insect took twice as long to walk a set distance, and found it difficult to correct itself when on its back.

To solve this problem, the researchers interleaved the adhesive and non-adhesive sections on the film, allowing it to bend outward while flexing the abdomen but also to remain adherent.

Its thickness is also less than 0.005 mm, which was found to be the upper limit of film thickness that does not impair the basic movements of insects.

The researchers note that this abdomen changed shape as the cockroach moved, so the solar cell would need to accommodate that or risk restricting its movement.  Therefore, instead of uniformly bonding the solar cell film, they trimmed the adhesive and non-adhesive sections on the films

The researchers note that this abdomen changed shape as the cockroach moved, so the solar cell would need to accommodate that or risk restricting its movement. Therefore, instead of uniformly bonding the solar cell film, they trimmed the adhesive and non-adhesive sections on the films

Scientists tested the cockroach's ability to harness the energy from its solar cell.  After charging it for half an hour, they applied a stimulus signal to turn the insect to the right, which worked.  Solid blue and red dashed lines represent the timing of the stimulus signal off and on, respectively.  Scale bar 10 cm

Scientists tested the cockroach’s ability to harness the energy from its solar cell. After charging it for half an hour, they applied a stimulus signal to turn the insect to the right, which worked. Solid blue and red dashed lines represent the timing of the stimulus signal off and on, respectively. Scale bar 10 cm

Once the backpack and solar cell film were combined into the six-centimeter crickets, the cyborgs were tested.

The 17.2 MW battery was charged by false sunlight for 30 minutes, and the animals were made to turn left and right using the wireless remote control.

“Considering the deformation of the chest and abdomen during basic locomotion, a hybrid electronic system consisting of rigid and flexible elements in the chest and ultra-soft abdominal devices appears to be an effective design for cyborgs,” Fukuda said.

Furthermore, since abdominal deformation is not unique to crickets, our strategy could be adapted to other insects such as beetles, or perhaps even flying insects such as cicadas in the future.

How can cyborg cockroaches help in disaster areas?

In November 2014, researchers at North Carolina State University outfitted crickets with electric backpacks complete with tiny microphones capable of detecting faint sounds.

The idea is that cyborg cockroaches, or “biobots,” could enter collapsed buildings hit by earthquakes, for example, and help emergency workers find survivors.

“Sound is the best way to find survivors in a collapsed building,” said Albert Bozcourt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University.

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a technology that allows cockroaches (pictured) to pick up sounds with tiny microphones and search for the source of the sound.  Can be used in emergency situations to discover survivors

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a technology that allows cockroaches (pictured) to pick up sounds with tiny microphones and search for the source of the sound. Can be used in emergency situations to discover survivors

The goal is to use biobots with high-resolution microphones to distinguish important sounds – like people calling for help – from sounds that don’t matter – like a leaking pipe.

Once we identify the important sounds, we can use biobots equipped with microphone arrays to focus on the source of those sounds.

The ‘backpacks’ control the robo-roach’s movements because they are wired up to the insect – sensory organs that cockroaches typically use to sense if their abdomen is hitting something.

By electrically stimulating the cerci, crickets can be induced to move in a certain direction.

In fact, they have been programmed to search for sound.

One type of ‘backpack’ is equipped with an array of three directional microphones to detect the direction of sound and direct the bionic robot in the correct direction towards it.

Another type has a single microphone to pick up sound from any direction, which can be transmitted wirelessly, possibly in the future to emergency workers.

Researchers declared at the IEEE Sensors 2014 conference in Valencia that they ‘done well’ in lab tests and experts have developed a technique that can be used as an ‘invisible fence’ to keep vital robots in a particular area such as a disaster zone, Spain.