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Cyborg cockroach invented to find survivors trapped under rubble

Disasters of one type or another are unfortunately becoming fairly regular viewing on the news, and perhaps one of the worst fates could be being buried alive under a ton of rubble following a quake or building collapse.

These sort of disasters generally involve a painstaking search and race against time to find trapped survivors while they’re still alive, but a new invention from North Carolina State University (spotted by the Independent) could well up the chances of a successful rescue mission.

The cyborg cockroach is certainly a novel idea – a normal cockroach will get anywhere, and is a tough customer known for its nuclear-war-surviving nature, so a cyber-roach… that should be something else.

And apparently it is, with the little roaches being mounted with electronic backpacks that contain microphones to seek out any sounds being made by survivors under the rubble.

One type of the cockroach, or biobot as they’re also called by Dr Alper Bozkurt, senior author of two papers on the project, is equipped with a single high-resolution mic to establish which sounds are likely to be from survivors. A second type then has an array of three directional microphones to determine the direction of the sound and home in on the trapped person.

Bozkurt explains: “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. 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.”

Technology has also been developed that generates an ‘invisible fence’ around a specified area, which the biobots won’t stray past – so they don’t scuttle away from the disaster site and get lost.

It’s very clever stuff – and this system has been tested in the laboratory with successful results. It’s certainly a hell of a lot more effective than randomly digging away and grabbing chunks of masonry hoping for the best…

Image Credit: Eric Whitmire

Darren Allan

Darran has over 25 years of experience in digital and magazine publishing as a writer and editor. He's also an author, having co-written a novel published by Little, Brown (Hachette UK). He currently writes news, features and buying guides for TechRadar, and occasionally other Future websites such as T3 or Creative Bloq and he's a copy editor for TechRadar Pro. Darrran has written for a large number of tech and gaming websites/magazines in the past, including Web User and ComputerActive. He has also worked at IDG Media, having been the Editor of PC Games Solutions and the Deputy Editor of PC Home.