Scientists have created remote-controlled cyborg cockroaches equipped with solar-powered mini backpacks

Remote-controlled cyborg cockroaches could one day be deployed on search and rescue missions, or to survey dangerous places.

It’s an idea that’s been in development for several years.

Now, a team of researchers has taken this one step closer to reality, after engineering a system to create cyborg bugs that produced significantly more power than previous experiments.

It is equipped with a special backpack that acts as a wireless controller. This is powered by a rechargeable battery connected to a solar cell.

And because of the ultra-thin and lightweight materials used, cockroaches can move freely on different types of terrain.

Supercharged cyborg cockroaches

Researchers at the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research (CPR) in Japan have created a cyborg, a fundamentally charged creature — at least compared to previous robotic insects.

“The body-mounted ultra-thin organic solar cell module achieves an output power of 17.2 MW, which is more than 50 times higher than the power output of the current state-of-the-art energy collectors on live insects,” Kenjiro Fukuda said. A senior research scientist at RIKEN CPR, who led the research.

The subjects of research are the Madagascar cockroaches – which are famous for their ability to make hissing noises to set off alarm, assert dominance and attract friends. It reaches about five to eight centimeters in length.

The scientists attached a special backpack to the insect that was designed to fit perfectly and allow the creature to move freely. The backpack contains a lithium polymer battery and a wireless controller.

This unit allows researchers to remotely control the insect’s movements. It does this by applying electrical stimulation to a portion of the abdomen, which controls movement and makes the insect rotate.

Researchers have been trying to develop cyborgs for some time, but Fukuda’s team has made significant progress in cyborg power.

By attaching a rechargeable battery, connected to a solar cell, the cockroaches can recharge in simulated sunlight, before returning on a remote-controlled mission.

And all this was possible thanks to the small size and low weight of the electronics used. The thickness of the solar cell module is only 0.004mm.

The researchers studied the cockroach’s movements, and found that its abdomen changes shape as it moves, with parts of its exoskeleton overlapping.

So the backpack had to be designed to include both sticky and non-stick sections, so it moved and changed shape with the cockroach’s movements.

When tested, they found that crickets could run twice as fast as when they were fitted with heavier or less adaptive backpacks.

“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.

Publish the research in the scientific journal npj flexible electronics.