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Cockroaches Can be Turned into 'Biobots' to Help Find Earthquake Survivors

Although they may seem disgusting most of the time, cockroaches can be very helpful with a little help from some cybernetic implants.

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"Bring in the cockroaches!" may soon be the first cry when there's been a devastating earthquake. Scientists at North Carolina State University's iBionics Lab have figured out a way to turn the much-maligned cockroach into a "biobot," or biological robot, and steer it remotely. The hope is that soon these tricked-out insects can be sent into earthquake zones to look for survivors in hard-to-reach areas [source: Fiegl].

How does it work? Scientists took cockroaches and inserted electrodes into their antennae and cerci, which are their rear sensors, plus strapped on tiny backpacks with wireless control systems, locator beacons and microphones. With this gear in place, the researchers were able to guide the bugs to stop, go and turn -- skills needed to navigate around rubble when looking for survivors. The microphones would be used to pick up cries for help [source: Fiegl].

Creating cockroach biobots is deemed a better bet than creating robots. Not only can cockroaches already walk around on their own, but they innately scurry away if they sense danger, so they're less likely to get trapped or killed in the rubble than a robot [source: Fiegl].

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