Why bother struggling to make mini robots, when the incredible, near-indestructible cockroach is already an amazing machine? Just slap a chip on the back and you've got yourself a remote-control bug, simple.
Researchers from North Carolina State University have done just that with off-the-shelf components (no, not a Raspberry Pi, yet). The cockroach carries a remote micro-controller on its back that's wired directly into the bug's nervous system, to control it just like you would a toy car.
It uses the cockroach's predator detection organs, called cerci, on its underbelly to basically act as the go-pedal -- hitting them with an electrical charge simulates air movement on the cerci (normally caused by something trying to squish or eat the roach) causing it to scurry away rapidly. To steer it left and right, the micro-controller's wired into the bug's antennae, which sends current into the right or left one, making the roach think it's just hit something and therefore changing its direction; charge the right one to make it turn left and visa versa.
The amazing thing is that researchers have gotten to the point where they can precisely control the cockroach along a fine curve, which you can see above in the video. There's the possibility you could power the controller using the roach as a bio-battery too, and then all you need to do it hook up a tiny camera to get the ultimate in spy gadgets. Of course, the cockroach is a hardy little bugger, so you could also send it into the most hazardous of places, like a radioactive zone in Fukushima, and fire back pictures so you can see what's happening inside without risking human life.
I don't know about you, but I love the idea of a remote-controlled pet roach. Imagine just how much you could freak your girlfriend out with this thing. Or slap a camera and mic on it, and you could have the ultimate eavesdropping device ever. Drive it up the wall, though the crack in the window, and, well, I'll leave the rest up to you. What you do in you own home is none of my business, you perve. [The Abstract via The Register]