October 21, 2013
Behold The Biobot!
Imagine yourself trapped under a collapsed building. You cannot move, but you know that help is on the way. Unfortunately, you have no idea how they will find you in all this rubble. As you start to lose hope, a bug skitters across your hand. You shoo it away, but soon it is joined by another. Then another. Then another. Just your luck, right? You are going to die down here, trapped under who knows how much rubble, and your only companions are a bunch of bugs. Wait, did that bug have a mechanical device on its back? What was that? Did you really just see a robotic bug? Not long after, the rescue teams finds you and pulls you free. When you ask how they found you, they tell you that it was thanks to the biobots.
What is a “biobot” you ask? Simple. It’s a cyborg insect and, yes, they are real. Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed software that allows them to map out unknown environments using this little creatures, normally cockroaches, equipped with various sensors and a basic remote control. Using the randomness of the way insects travel about, a swarm of biobots could be released into an unknown, impossible to map out environment, such as a collapsed building like in our story above, and let them scatter about randomly. Then, via a signal sent by the controller, the biobots would go to the nearest wall or other structure they could walk on (given that they possess the ability to walk on walls and ceilings as easily as floors) and follow it while the sensor package they are equipped with takes readings and sends those readings back to the controller. It also sends back data about the relevant location of each biobot as compared to the others, giving them a way of mapping out just where the readings are coming from. Equip the bugs with microphones and/or heat sensors, and they could find people trapped under rubble. Slap on a Geiger counter and they could find radiation leaks in old nuclear silos. They could be set to detect gas emissions, radio waves, or just about anything we could need them to notice. While it may seem a bit strange to think of a swarm of cockroaches as being useful tools for first responders during an emergency, these little guys could be instrumental in saving countless lives.
Currently, the concept of the biobot system is still in the works. Researchers are currently testing the theory of how it will work with computer simulations and full robots. If those prove successful they will move on to actual biobots sometime in the future. And so, someday, if you find yourself trapped, you might end up being saved by a cyborg cockroach. How strange would that seem? It may sound like the stuff of a bad science fiction movie, but more and more science fiction is becoming science fact.