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Remote-controlled cyborg cockroach is powered by a solar cell

For years, scientists have been trying to design cyborg insects – part insect, part robot – to help inspect hazardous areas or monitor the environment. In order for the use of such insects to be practical, handlers must be able to control them remotely for extended periods of time, by employing wireless controls of their leg segments powered by tiny, rechargeable batteries. Since keeping the battery charged for long is essential, the best solution is to include an on-board solar cell which can constantly recharge it.

Now, an international team of researchers led by the RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research (CPR) has engineered a system for creating remote controlled cyborg cockroaches, which includes a tiny wireless control module powered by a rechargeable battery attached to a solar cell. To successfully integrate these devices into cockroaches with limited surface area, the scientists constructed a special backpack, ultrathin organic solar cell modules, and an adhesion system which keeps the machinery firmly attached for long periods of time, while also allowing for natural movements. 

The team experimented with Madagascar cockroaches by attaching the wireless leg-control module and lithium polymer battery to the top of the insect’s thorax using a specially designed backpack modeled after the body plan of a model cockroach. This backpack was 3D printed with an elastic polymer and fit perfectly on the cockroach’s curved surface, allowing the rigid electronic device to remain stably mounted on the thorax for over a month. In addition, they mounted an ultrathin (0.004 millimeters thick) organic solar cell module on the dorsal side of insect’s abdomen.

“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,” said study lead author Kenjiro Fukuda, an expert in Applied Physics at RIKEN.

“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,” he added. “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.”

The study is published in the journal npj Flexible Electronics.

Image Credit: RIKEN

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

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