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Remote Controlled Cyber ​​Cockroaches

Remote Controlled Cyber ​​Cockroaches

This type of cyborg cockroach, half insect, half machine, could be used to help survey dangerous areas or monitor the environment.

An international team of researchers has designed a system to create remote-controlled robotic cockroaches, equipped with a small wireless control module that is powered by a rechargeable battery connected to a solar cell. Despite the mechanical devices, ultra-thin electronics and flexible materials allow the insects to move freely. According to its creators, these achievements will help make the use of cyborg insects a practical reality.

In a paper published Monday in the scientific journal npj Flexible Electronics, researchers from the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research (CPR) detail how they have been trying to engineer cyborg insects – part insect, part machine – to help survey dangerous areas or monitor the environment

However, for the use of cyborg insects to be practical, manipulators must be able to control them remotely for long periods. This requires wireless control of his leg segments, powered by a small rechargeable battery.

The key: the battery

Keeping your battery properly charged is critical: no one wants a team of suddenly out-of-control cyborg cockroaches wandering around. While it is possible to build docking stations to recharge the battery, the need to go back and recharge could disrupt time-sensitive missions. Therefore, the best solution is to include a solar cell on board that can continuously ensure that the battery remains charged.

All of this is easier said than done. To successfully integrate these devices into a cockroach that has a limited surface area, the research team was required to develop a special backpack, ultra-thin organic solar cell modules, and an adhesion system that holds the machinery together for long periods. and at the same time allows natural movements.

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Madagascar cockroaches

Led by Kenjiro Fukuda, the team experimented with Madagascar cockroaches, which are about 6 cm long. They attached the wireless leg control module and lithium-polymer battery to the top of the insect in the thorax using a specially designed backpack, which was modeled after the body of a model cockroach.

The backpack was 3D printed from a stretchy polymer and perfectly matched the curved surface of the cockroach, allowing the rigid electronic device to be stably mounted on the chest for more than a month.

The team experimented with cockroaches from Madagascar, which are about 6 cm long.

The 0.004 mm thick ultra-thin organic solar cell module was mounted on the dorsal side of the abdomen. “The body-mounted ultra-thin organic solar cell module achieves a power output of 17.2 mW, which is more than 50 times higher than the power output of current state-of-the-art energy harvesting devices in live insects”, according to Fukuda.

The ultra-thin, flexible organic solar cell, and how it was attached to the insect, proved necessary to ensure freedom of movement. After carefully examining the cockroaches’ natural movements, the researchers realized that the abdomen changes shape and parts of the exoskeleton overlap.

To accommodate this, they sandwiched adhesive and non-adhesive sections into the films, allowing them to flex but also stay attached. When thicker solar cell films were tested, or when the films adhered evenly, the cockroaches took twice as long to run the same distance and had difficulty righting themselves when on their backs.

Other insects in the future

Once these components were integrated into the cockroaches, along with cables that stimulate the leg segments, the new cyborgs were tested. The battery was charged in pseudo-sunlight for 30 min and the animals were made to turn left and right using the wireless remote control.

“Our strategy can be adapted to other insects such as beetles or cicadas”

“Given the deformation of the thorax and abdomen during basic locomotion, a hybrid electronic system of rigid and flexible elements in the thorax and ultrasoft devices in the abdomen appears to be an effective design for cyborg cockroaches,” says Fukuda. “Furthermore, since abdominal deformation is not unique to cockroaches, our strategy may be adapted to other insects such as beetles, or perhaps even flying insects such as cicadas in the future.”

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Referencia: Integration of body-mounted ultrasoft organic solar cell on cyborg insects with intact mobility (npj Flexible Electronics) DOI 10.1038/s41528-022-00207-2 



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