NC State researchers hope controllable insects can help in disasters

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — For someone trapped after a natural disaster, a large cockroach probably sounds like an unwelcome sight, but a group of researchers at N.C. State University, hopes some specially equipped roaches could one day help save lives.

The researchers want to use them in cases of disaster such as an earthquake or building collapse where people may be trapped

“Because of their size and their agility to they can actually go under the rubble and be able to get to locations that you would not be able to get to otherwise,” Professor Edgar Lobaton explained.

The roaches would be equipped with a sort of electronic backpack which allows researchers to guide their movements. They say they’ve been able to make the roaches follow lines and navigate mazes, but the goal isn’t just to control the cockroaches’ movements.

They could potentially also be used  to gather information.  The backpacks will  include sensors that can track sound and record the roaches’ movements, so they can be used to map disaster areas.

“I want to use a large swarm of them, maybe hundreds of them, to map an environment and create a map of the scene,” said Lobaton.

By putting the electronically equipped bugs into unstable  areas, researchers hope to reduce the risk to first responders  And while it may be years down the road, these researchers hope one day these roaches will be a welcome sight.

“Some people might freak out thinking of pests coming to rescue them, but at the end of the day these are some wonderful creatures which we are hoping for a greater good,” said research assistant, Tahmid Latif.

The researchers say they always have to be mindful that the roaches are living creatures and make sure their research does not harm the animals in any way.

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