(You do not know how hard it was to write that headline.)
Let’s say you need a really small exploration vehicle to check out the ruins of a natural disaster to search for survivors. Nature has been at this design task for millions of years and has produced an optimized design otherwise known as the hissing cockroach. Unfortunately, we’re not very good at controlling hissing cockroaches, either individually or in large populations. Well, Tahmid Latif and Alper Bozkurt at the Integrated Bionic Microsystems Laboratory (iBionicS Lab) at North Carolina State University have developed a strap-on control system that turns a hissing cockroach into a driveable robotic device.
The backpack drives a couple of stimulation electrodes that are attached to the stubs of the cockroach’s amputated antennae. These electrodes allow a driver to steer the cockroach, as exhibited in a pretty interesting video.
For a proof of concept, the researchers used a Microchip PIC 16F630 microcontroller with an IA4320 ISM band FSK receiver that took commands from a commercial radio-control transmitter. It worked, but the prototype controller was too heavy and handicapped the mobility of the cockroach. So the researchers developed a lighter system based on a Texas Instruments CC2530 Zigbee-based SoC.
You can read all about it in the paper: “Line Following Terrestrial Insect Biobots” presented at the 34th International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society held in San Diego, CA a couple of weeks ago.