Insbot Robot Cockroaches Make Friends And Influence... Roaches

Robot cockroaches (or "robo-roaches") are making friends fast - and influencing their behavior. Thanks to microelectronics and pheromones, the Leurre project can do research on building and controlling mixed societies comprised of animals and tiny machines. (Note: Although this has been described as a "breaking news story" on some sites, it's actually about a year old. The project ended on August 31, 2005, according to the project website.)


(Robot cockroach and friends)

Even though this is an "old" story, I couldn't resist. It turns out that once you spray on the pheromones, and provide some reasonably roach-like behavior, the little robots are accepted by the cockroach group. And since cockroaches display group behaviors, an assertive robot roach can influence the real cockroaches in the group. For example, they can convince the real roaches to leave shaded areas and venture out into the light. The robots were provided with programming to make them both seek out real roaches, and then veer toward lit areas.

The ultimate goal of the project is to gain a better understanding of how animals interact to create a sort of collective intelligence. It may lead to innovative forms of artificial intelligence. I'm hoping it leads to more influence over pests.

In his excellent short story The Scarab, written in 1936, science fiction writer Raymond Z. Gallun creates a very detailed picture of a tiny robotic machine used for surveillance:

The Scarab paused on its perch for a moment, as if to determine for itself whether it was perfectly fit for action. It was a tiny thing, scarcely more than an inch and a half in length...

About it, as it scrambled forward, were weeds and bushes and grass, which, from its miniature point of view, constituted a thick and threatening jungle... a large, vicious-looking beetle barred the way, its chitinous mandibles opening and closing suggestively.
(Read more about the Scarab robotic machine)

The Scarab was remote-controlled, so it was not an autonomous robot; however, most of its behaviors were programmed in.

One interesting detail, from the standpoint of this news story, is that the creators of the Scarab sometimes used it to pick fights with other beetles. Maybe Mr. Gallun should have been thinking about how to use it to make friends...

If you are interested in cockroaches and robotics (and who isn't?), read this "tables-are-turned" article about cockroach-controlled robot about a roach who can drive. If that's not enough for you, check out DARPA's plans for a zombie insect army. Read more about robo-roaches; take a look at the Leurre project website.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/9/2006)

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