Secret Agents: Robotic Cockroaches

Scientists have recently created tiny robotic cockroaches so lifelike that they are actually capable of fooling other cockroaches. Perhaps cockroaches aren't the most difficult creatures to trick, but impressive nonetheless. From the press release:

"When dropped into a small experimental area with a maze of curved walls, the robots move, turn and stop. They can navigate their way safely by avoiding the walls, obstacles or each other, follow the walls, congregate around a lamp beam or even line up. When placed in the same area with cockroaches, the robots quickly adapt their behaviour by mimicking the animals’ movements. Coated with pheromones taken from roaches, the infiltrator robots even fool the insects into thinking they are real creatures.

Not only did the insbots act like and interact with the insects, they even succeeded in changing the roaches’ behaviour. For example, the darkness-loving insects followed their artificial cousins towards bright beams of light and congregated there. This process took up to two hours, but it showed how humans might soon be able to manipulate the behaviour of a whole colony of insects. A trick that would delight pest-controllers the world over!

Firstly, by changing the way animals behave or inducing collective behaviour, scientists can learn much about animal communications and information processing. Secondly, the ability to create ‘mixed systems’, where artificial agents interact with natural ones, is a long-held dream for many in the scientific community – including those working on nanotechnology. Moreover, these systems are in keeping with emerging European research such as collective robotics and FET-funded projects such as Swarmbots."

See the full press release here.

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Profile: Mark Tilden


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