Thursday, 6 November 2014

Researchers Design Cyborg Cockroaches for Search and Rescue Missions

Cyborg cockroach developed by North Carolina State University
Cyborg Cockroach
Credit: Eric Whitmire.
Researchers at the North Carolina State University (NCSU) issued a press release today announcing that they have developed "cyborg" cockroaches with electronic circuit boards strapped to their backs.

The cyborg cockroaches (or biobots) can be used to pick up sounds with their attached microphones and seek out their source.

Hopefully, the technology will one day help emergency personnel to find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of disasters, like earthquakes.

"In a collapsed building, sound is the best way to find survivors." said Dr. Alper Bozkurt, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and senior author of two papers on the cyborg cockroaches.

Bozkurt’s team has created two types of customized cockroach-backpacks. The first has a single microphone that can capture relatively high-resolution sounds from any direction to be wirelessly transmitted to first responders.

The second backpack is equipped with an array of three directional microphones to detect the direction of the sound. The research team has also developed algorithms that analyze the sound from the microphone array to localize the source of the sound and steer the biobot in that direction.
“The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter – like people calling for help – from sounds that don’t matter – like a leaking pipe. Once we’ve identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero in on where those sounds are coming from.” said Bozkurt.

The system has already been tested and works well in laboratory tests. The video below is from a laboratory test on the microphone array system:

The caption reads: "To help surviving victims buried under the rubble after natural disasters, biobots needs to localize them. The little backpack that biobot carries can detect where the sounds is coming from and autonomously steer the biobot towards the sound source. Note that the video is muted
after 3 seconds otherwise the speaker plays the sound until biobot finds the source." 

Another research team from the same university, led by Dr. Edgar Lobaton, has previously shown that biobots can be used to map a disaster area.

The long-term goal of the two teams is to combine their efforts to both map disaster areas and pinpoint survivors. The researchers are already working with collaborator Dr. Mihail Sichitiu, associate professor at NCSU, to develop the next generation of biobot networking and localization technology.

Bozkurt’s team has also developed technology that can be used as an “invisible fence” that keeps the biobots close to the disaster area. This is important because it can be used to keep the biobots within range of each other so that they can be used as a reliable mobile wireless network. This technology could also be used to steer biobots to light sources, so that the miniaturized solar panels on biobot backpacks can be recharged.

The video below shows the invisible fence technology in practice:

The caption reads: "To establish a sensor network among the insect biobots they need to be kept at a certain distance with respect to each other. Also, the tiny solar panels they carry needs to be under a light source for an hour to be charged. We were able to achieve an invisible fence to have roachbot to make a u-turn when it gets out a boundary and stay inside."

- The research of both Dr. Alper Bozkurt and Dr. Edgar Lobaton is funded by the National Science Foundation CyberPhysical Systems Program

North Carolina State University:"Cockroach cyborgs use microphones to detect, trace sounds."
- Tahmid Latif, Eric Whitmire, Tristan Novak, and Alper Bozkurt (2014). Towards Fenceless Boundaries for Solar Powered Insect Biobots Aug. 28 at 36th Annual International IEEE EMBS Conference, Chicago, Illinois
- Eric Whitmire, Tahmid Latif, and Alper Bozkurt (2014). Acoustic Sensors for Biobotic Search and Rescue Nov. 5 at IEEE Sensors 2014, Valencia, Spain

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