Saturday, November 18, 2017
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Rescue Roaches Steered Toward Sounds Via Circuitry

Researchers have created a circuit that guides cockroaches toward sounds picked up on a tiny microphone. Photo courtesy of Eric Whitmire, North Carolina State University.
Researchers have created a circuit that guides cockroaches toward sounds picked up on a tiny microphone. Photo courtesy of Eric Whitmire, North Carolina State University.

After a disaster, rescuers often search for trapped victims by listening for sounds of life. Researchers at North Carolina State University hope to assist this effort, by enlisting roaches. The bugs could crawl into tiny spaces human rescuers can’t easily access, with small microphones on their backs to detect sounds.

The researchers call the roaches “biobots” and have developed two types. One carries a single, omnidirectional microphone that transmits relatively high-resolution sound back to human rescue teams. The other carries an array of microphones to pick up sounds for analysis. Algorithms being developed by the researchers will guide the roach toward sounds that might indicate life.

“The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter – like people calling for help – from sounds that don’t matter – like a leaking pipe,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and a lead researcher on the project. “Once we’ve identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero in on where those sounds are coming from.”

The researchers have already demonstrated that they can use the technology to guide a roach through a maze, and use an invisible fence to keep the biobots contained to a specified area.

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