Cyborg cockroaches stay charged by carrying tiny solar panels

An international team of researchers have refined a remote-control cyborg cockroach.

You can get down off the table – they’re not in the wild yet. But it’s reasonable to ask why they’d do such a thing.

It’s not because they have a nasty streak. Animals fitted with electronic devices can get into places that humans can’t go.

Snakes with radiation monitors have delivered valuable information about Fukushima, for instance, and snails with tiny computers have added to the body of conservation knowledge.

One day, cyborg cockroaches could join these hallowed halls.

The team from the RIKEN’s Cluster for Pioneering Research in Japan, developed the system for remote control cyborg cockroaches, complete with a wireless control module, rechargeable batteries and a tiny solar cell.

The system is described in a paper in npj Flexible Electronics.

“The body-mounted ultrathin organic solar cell module achieves a power output of 17.2 mW, which is more than 50 times larger than the power output of current state-of-the art energy harvesting devices on living insects,” says lead researcher Kenjiro Fukuda, a researcher at RIKEN’s Cluster for Pioneering Research, Japan.

The researchers fitted Madagascar cockroaches, which are roughly six centimetres long, with wireless leg-control modules and tiny 3D-printed backpacks holding lithiumpolymer batteries.

They also carried flexible solar cells, 0.004 millimetres thick, on their thoraxes. These solar cells were designed to give the cockroaches full freedom of movement: adhesive at some points, non-adhesive at others, to account for the cockroaches’ overlapping exoskeletons.

This means that the cockroaches don’t have to return to a charging hub to stay charged, so they can go on longer missions. Nor are their controls likely to run out of power, which would allow the cyborg cockroaches to go rogue.

“Considering the deformation of the thorax and abdomen during basic locomotion, a hybrid electronic system of rigid and flexible elements in the thorax and ultrasoft devices in the abdomen appears to be an effective design for cyborg cockroaches,” says Fukuda.

“Moreover, since abdominal deformation is not unique to cockroaches, our strategy can be adapted to other insects like beetles, or perhaps even flying insects like cicadas in the future.”

In tests, the researchers found that the batteries could be charged with pseudo-sunlight for 30 minutes, and they could turn the cockroaches left and right with the remote controls.

The paper does not state if the robo-roaches squeak: “I’ll be back” when they head off.

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