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NC State professor sees roaches playing key role in rescues

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An N.C. State professor is working to get roaches to play a key role in search and rescue efforts. An N.C. State professor is working to get roaches to play a key role in search and rescue efforts.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Roaches don't have the best reputation. As a matter of fact, most people want to kill them.

But cockroaches may one day save human lives.

In fact, giant roaches called Madagascar hissing cockroaches could be a welcome site for the victims of disasters.

Dr. Alper Bozhurt and his team at N.C. State have received a $1 million federal grant to put their research of backpack-wearing roaches into real-life search and recovery situations.

Bozhurt said using roaches makes sense because of the sensors, power sources and control mechanisms they have.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "It's more complex than your smartphones."

The idea is you can send a swarm of roaches into the aftermath of disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes to look for survivors.

They can crawl into small spaces and they can find their way very easily.

For years, Bozhurt said, scientists have tried to build insect-like robots for search and rescue operations.

"It's  really difficult to fit a lot of sensors and control mechanisms into such small places," he said.

Bozhurt said the key to controlling the roach is inside the tiny hairs on a roach's antenna. Part of the natural antenna is replaced with metal electrodes. And that's how the roaches are guided.

"There is no hurting of the roach because they don't have pain sensors, pain receptors," Bozhurt said.

The backpack they attach to the roach is a tiny wireless radio that receives remote commands and sends digital pulses to the roach.

For now, a listening device can be attached to this backpack, so when the roaches are sent into rubble the radio will pick up if someone is crying for help.

Researchers are hoping a tiny camera will be developed to one day attach to the roaches to see under the rubble.

That could be a reality in three years.

Beside their tough exterior and amazing senses, Bozhurt said the other benefit of roaches is they breed like, well, roaches, so there are a lot of potential rescuers.

If you put a male and female together, you can have a whole colony in a couple months.

 

Melanie Sanders

Melanie anchors the 6 PM news. Her "What's Next" series features an engaging approach to storytelling and highlights the leaders in innovation who are shaping our future. Check it out HERE! More>>

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