Researchers in North Carolina control cockroaches with Microsoft’s Kinect

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A group of researchers in North Carolina State University have developed an electronic interface that they can use to remotely control cockroaches. To make things just a little more bizarre, they’re using Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensor to help make it possible.

After a digitally plotted path is created for the roach, the system uses the Kinect to track the insect’s progress. The Kinect then sends that tracking data to a program that will automatically steer the roach to follow the path. So yes, it’s a Kinect-controlled cockroach on autopilot. You can see it in action for yourself below:

So are these guys basically mad scientists? Apparently not, it turns out they have a very good reason for all this. Dr. Alper Bozkurt, who is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NCSU and co-author of a paper on the work, says that they want to eventually be able to use the roaches to explore and aid in disaster sites:

“We want to build on this program, incorporating mapping and radio frequency techniques that will allow us to use a small group of cockroaches to explore and map disaster sites. The autopilot program would control the roaches, sending them on the most efficient routes to provide rescuers with a comprehensive view of the situation.”

He adds that they might also be able to add small speakers to the insects, so rescuers can communicate with people that are trapped. Bozkurt’s team was previously responsible for the technology that allows users to steer roaches remotely, and this new Kinect-powered autopilot program is their latest work.

Their paper, which is titled “Kinect-based System for Automated Control of Terrestrial Insect Biobots,” will be presented at an engineering conference in Japan early next month.

What do you think of the autopilot cockroaches that might eventually help save lives? Let us know in the comments!

[via NCSU, Engadget]

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2 comments

  1. Enrique Manalang
    Author/Staff

    [@Jimbo] Great question! I think the Kinect here is being utilized at this stage primarily for data collection and fine-tuning their controls. The end goal is to have these roaches controlled remotely (without the need for the Kinect or line of sight) by a separate program :)

  2. Jimbo

    Looks pretty cool.
    However there seems to be a limitation for this particular setup in my mind.
    If I understand correctly, a ‘line of sight’ is required between the cockroach and Kinect. If so, it would seem that there are many ‘disaster’ scenarios that would require the cockroach to enter into an area where there is no line of sight .
    Right?