Roaches controlled with Xbox Kinect

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

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This diagram shows how far the roach travels from the 0 second mark (t = 0s), the 12 second mark (t = 12s), and then the 25 second mark (t = 25s).

Hey, don’t kill that cockroach, he’s a robotic hero! You heard me, that roach is a hero. Or at least, he has the potential to become one with some technology from North Carolina State University. All he needs are some electrical pulses, an Xbox Kinect, and people to stop throwing shoes at him!

If you’ve seen a large cockroach (I get the chills just thinking about it!) you’ve noticed two large antennas sticking out of his head. These antennas help guide the cockroach so he doesn’t crash into things. What you may not have seen was his cerci, which is located under the roach. This part can sense changes in the wind behind him – sometimes caused by animals that want to eat him – warning him to run!

Last year, North Carolina State University created several tiny-sized electrodes to stimulate the antennas and cerci of roaches. These electrical pulses gave researchers the ability to steer the bug left and right, while tiny shocks around the cerci pushed the little critter forward.

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Equipping the roach with technology.

The researchers have now added video game motion control technology, using Xbox Kinect to control the roach. The Xbox Kinect uses motion capture camera technology to track human movements when you’re playing a game, and can even make it look like you’re actually inside of the video game. The researchers used this motion tech to track the movements of the roaches and adjust their direction. By plotting a path for the roach to follow on a computer, they could direct him anywhere with a few keystrokes!

But what does all this have to do with being a hero?

Because of his miniature size, the roach can fit into spaces that are too large for humans and robots. The creators are hoping he can be used in situations – like a collapsed building – where rescue teams cannot fit. Next time you see a roach, don’t be so quick to get a shoe, he might be on a mission to save lives!

Featured image and roach movement image courtesy of North Carolina State University. Thorax electrode image courtesy of Ben Lipkowitz on Flickr.