Japanese engineers have proposed combining a swarm of cockroaches with implants to control movement. They can be used simultaneously, for example, to line up shapes and display information, or to replace cockroaches that stop executing commands. The development was noticed by the publication IEEE Spectrum.
Engineers have long been able to control insects with implants. Basically, this is done by electrostimulating the antennae, which the insect perceives as a collision with an obstacle. After that, it turns to the side, so this stimulation allows you to control the direction of movement. There are also methods of management with direct electrostimulation muscles of the individual legs, or optical stimulation of neurons. However, the potential applications of cyborg insects are not being explored as actively as the technical aspects of management.
Japanese engineers from the University of Tsukuba, led by Yoichi Ochiai, have proposed several new applications for cockroaches with control implants. The authors used several Madagascar cockroaches and attached unique matrix barcodes to each of them in addition to the implant and control Board. Thanks to this, as well as the camera above the cockroaches, the control algorithm can track the position of each cockroach and give it personal commands.
The most unusual application that the engineers have proposed is the use of controlled cockroaches as an interface. They showed that insects can be arranged in the right shapes by tracking their position and giving them commands to turn. For example, in a video, you can see how cockroaches lined up in the letter X and acted as pixels. In this example, the authors used only five insects, but for greater accuracy, you can use a larger number. In another demonstration, a marker was attached to an insect that came into contact with a piece of paper on which the cockroach was standing. By controlling the movement of such a cockroach, they were able to draw the desired shapes on the surface of the leaf.
Another way to display information, which the authors demonstrated — moving the plastic sphere. During the experiments, they used only one sphere, which the cockroaches pushed forward, but there could potentially be many of them, so they can be used as pixels. Also during these experiments, the researchers showed the advantage of a swarm of insects. Sometimes one of them may turn in a different direction or stop walking. In this case, another insect from the swarm, located nearby, can continue its work.
Engineers are also working on creating other wearable or implantable devices for insects. For example, this year, two different development groups introduced a wearable Bluetooth camera for beetles and a device for resetting sensors in flight, which is fixed to the moth.