Cockroach-like ‘biobots’, UAVs may help future disaster relief efforts

biobots north carolina university

Researchers at the North Carolina State University have developed a way to map areas using a combination of both smart hardware and software, which could effectively help with relief efforts in disaster areas.

With a little help from wirelessly-controlled UAVs (effectively drones) and robots that mimic the shape and movement of insects (called biobots), large unfamiliar areas can be surveyed and recorded.

“The idea would be to release a swarm of sensor-equipped biobots — such as remotely controlled cockroaches — into a collapsed building or other dangerous, unmapped area,” explained assistant professor and co-author of the research paper, Edgar Lobaton in a blog post.

Using a combination of radio waves and software witchcraft, the biobots can scan and map out the land at ground level. The drones provide air support, mapping out the area from the sky. The result is a detailed map that could be extremely helpful to disaster relief efforts.

“This has utility for areas — like collapsed buildings — where GPS can’t be used. A strong radio signal from the UAV could penetrate to a certain extent into a collapsed building, keeping the biobot swarm contained,” said Lobaton.

Biobots and UAVs could help emergency service operators find people in collapsed buildings

“As long as we can get a signal from any part of the swarm, we are able to retrieve data on what the rest of the swarm is doing. Based on our experimental data, we know you’re going to lose track of a few individuals, but that shouldn’t prevent you from collecting enough data for mapping,” he continued.

These robots aren’t too farfetched either. Co-author of the research, Alper Bozkurt, has already developed functional cockroach biobots.

“We had previously developed proof-of-concept software that allowed us to map small areas with biobots, but this work allows us to map much larger areas and to stitch those maps together into a comprehensive overview,” said Lobaton.

“The next step is to replicate these experiments using biobots, which we’re excited about,” Lobaton concluded.

Feature image: North Carolina State University



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