There has been no shortage of uses floated for Microsoft's Xbox Kinect that go beyond the realm of gaming, from 3D modeling to docking satellites and even garbage catching. Now we can add controlling cyborg cockroaches to the list. As part of ongoing research into steering biobots, researchers at North Carolina State University have used the video game technology to put roaches on autopilot.

The system is essentially a digitally plotted path that's plugged into the computer interface and relayed to the cockroach. The interface is wired to the bug’s antennae and cerci, the sensory organs on the roach’s abdomen. The cerci are normally used to detect movement in the air, initiating a survival reaction, which the researchers utilize while driving the bug – basically, acting as the gas pedal. The wires clipped to the antennae have small charges that make the roach think it is in contact with something – essentially allowing the researchers to steer.

In the latest developments, researchers incorporated the Kinect to identify and track the bug’s progress. The software then uses the Kinect interface to course-correct the insect as it moves, essentially driving the roach. The Kinect is also used to collect data on the roaches’ response to the electrical impulses used for steering from the remote control interface.

As the researchers work perfect their RC critters, the practical intent is to use the cockroaches as autonomous cartographers (map creators) for dynamic environments, such as collapsed buildings or other places that are difficult or dangerous for humans to reach.

“We want to build on this program, incorporating mapping and radiofrequency techniques that will allow us to use a small group of cockroaches to explore and map disaster sites,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, assistant professor at NC State and co-author of the paper. “The autopilot program would control the roaches, sending them on the most efficient routes to provide rescuers with a comprehensive view of the situation.”

The team's paper entitled “Kinect-based System for Automated Control of Terrestrial Insect Biobots,” will be presented on July 4 at the International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society in Japan.

The video below shows the Kinect-controlled biobot in action.

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