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Researchers use Kinect to steer cockroaches on autopilot

Researchers from North Carolina State University are utilizing Kinect technology to steer cockroaches on autopilot, with a computer moving the cockroach through a controlled environment. The researchers are taking advantage of the video game technology to determine how cockroaches react to the remote control, with the ultimate goal of creating ways that cockroaches on autopilot can be utilized to map dynamic environments like collapsed structures after an earthquake or tornado.

The researchers have integrated Kinect technology into an electronic interface created at North Carolina State university that can remotely command cockroaches. The researchers enter a digitally plotted path for the cockroach, and utilize Kinect to figure out and track the insect’s movement. The program then utilizes the Kinect tracking data to automatically move the roach along the desired path.

The researchers also utilize Kinect to gather data on how the cockroaches react to the electrical signals from the remote-control interface. This information will assist with researchers with the fine-tuning of the steering parameters designed to move the cockroaches more accurately.

According to co-author Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University, the researchers want to be able to steer the cockroaches as efficiently as possible. Eventually, they want to utilize a team of cockroaches to examine and map disaster sites. The autopilot program would place the cockroaches on the most efficient routes to offer rescuers with an overall view of what a collapsed structure looks like from the inside.

According to the researchers, the cockroaches would be given sensors, like microphones, to pick up the sounds of survivors. Cockroaches may even be able to carry tiny speakers, which would give rescuers the ability to communicate with disaster zone survivors, Bozkurt notes.

Though Bozkurt and his colleagues had previously created the technology that would give users the ability to move technology remotely, the utilization of Kinect to build an autopilot program and track the exact response of cockroaches to electrical impulses is an entirely novel idea.

The researchers point out that the remote-control interface is connected to the cockroach’s antennae and cerci. Attaching the wires to the cockroach’s cerci forces the insect to move, while the wires attached to the antennae transmit small charges that convince the cockroach that its antennae are touching an obstacle, thus steering it in a different direction.