(NaturalNews) Few of us tolerate the presence of roaches in our homes and places of business, but researchers and the media are now telling us that, in certain circumstances, roaches might be our best friends because they'll keep us "safe."
A new video produced by North Carolina State University's iBionics Laboratory shows how the bugs can be "surgically transformed into remote-controlled 'biobots' that could help locate earthquake survivors in hard-to-access areas," according to National Geographic News.
No doubt then that these creatures can be transformed into loathsome little spybots as well, but more on that in a moment.
In the video, researchers demonstrate how their transformed roaches can be "steered" very precisely.
A little background on these critters
Alper Bozkurt, who led the roach biobot project, said during an interview with NGN that the transformed Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which appear to be about twice as long as a quarter according to a photo posted on the website, that they are technically called "biological robots" (or the shorter biobot), but are in fact an early type of "insect cyborg."
"Currently, we can steer these roaches remotely and make them stop, go, and turn. If we can have them interact independently with the technologies we've surgically implanted in them, then they will become true cyborgs," Bozkurt said.
In describing what he called a "simple" procedure, Bozkurt said researchers put the insects into a cold environment, like a refrigerator, for a few hours, which makes them hibernate, "so they don't move."
We do a simple surgery to insert the electrodes in the roaches' antennae and cerci [rear sensors]," he said, noting that the procedure is done with only a pair of tweezers and a microscope. "We also use medical-grade epoxy to glue tiny magnets to their backs, so that we can just snap on the backpack containing the wireless control system."
The tiny electronic backpacks carry a locator beam and a tiny microphone that is used to listen for anyone crying for assistance, as a human operator or computer listens in and steers the insects.
"Our biobots are basically just beasts of burden," he said. "They could also carry a camera or any other kind of miniaturized sensor one can imagine."
Bozkurt said he and fellow researchers are set to ramp up the experimentation; so far tests have been done in a very controlled lab environment, on flat surfaces. He said his team is in the process of building test-beds "that mimic some real-life scenarios."
"I don't think it will be very long before we can deploy them to actually help rescue people," he said.
But what if, ultimately, such biobots are developed for other, more sinister uses, such as spying on unsuspecting people? In an interview with The Abstract, North Carolina State University's publication, Bozkurt left open that possibility without really saying so.
"Our aim (of the research) was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small spaces," he said. "Ultimately, we think this will allow us to create a mobile web of smart sensors that uses cockroaches to collect and transmit information..."
"Building small-scale robots that can perform in such uncertain, dynamic conditions is enormously difficult," he continued. "We decided to use biobotic cockroaches in place of robots, as designing robots at that scale is very challenging and cockroaches are experts at performing in such a hostile environment."
With the emergence of nanotechnology, experts say it's just a matter of time before nearly undetectable devices are developed that can eavesdrop and transmit voice or images, or both. And if you can cheaply "steer" a bug that can be kept out of site, you'd have an endless supply of cyborg insects to utilize.