The Loh Down On Science

Robo-Roach Rescue

Eric Whitmire /

Could the latest search and rescue recruits be ... cockroaches? 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

Imagine you’re an earthquake survivor trapped inside a collapsed building.  A searcher hears your cries for help and comes crawling through the wreckage.  Only when it arrives you see it’s not on two-legs, or even four, but six hairy legs! 

What is it?  A Madagascar hissing cockroach!  That's right!  Engineers at North Carolina State University are working on using the bugs to locate disaster victims in hard-to-reach places.  

How?  The team hooks the critters up to tiny electronic backpacks no bigger than a quarter.   

Electrodes attach to their antennae.  The backpacks are fitted with microphones tuned to detect human voices.  The idea?  For rescue teams to listen in, hear the calls, and locate survivors.

Also being developed?  An invisible fence, to stop the robo-roaches from escaping and running wild through the streets.  It's early days, but cockroach cyborgs may someday be our first responders!

Unless people squash them first!  Which could happen.

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