The impressive research leaves Japanese netizens both grossed out and in a moral quandary.

A Japanese research institute have developed remote control ‘cyborg insects‘, with the hope that they can be used to save people in disaster struck areas.

The cyborg insect concept involves attaching a robotic ‘suit’ to the back of a Madagascar cockroach. Once attached, the suit can then be used to control the cockroach by using electrical stimulation to a sensory organ in the insect’s abdomen. Currently, the suit is able to change the direction the cockroach moves in with the press of a button.

The suit, which is solar powered, takes 30 minutes to fully charged and can be used for up to two minutes per charge. The research group believes that in the future, by adding small cameras and sensors to the suit, it may be possible to apply this technology to help aid in hard to reach or hazardous areas.

You can see the cyborg suit in action in the video below.

The Madagascar cockroach was chosen for a number of reasons, namely its size, its ability to withstand harsh environments and how easy it is to control. Madagascar cockroaches are usually around 6cm (2.3 inches) in size, and their larger bodies allow for more space to attach solar panels, so they’ll be able to be controlled for a longer period of time. The Madagascar cockroach also has a reasonably long life span, especially when compared to other insects like grasshoppers or beetles, and it doesn’t have wings, so there’s no chance it would be able to fly out of range.

▼ The cockroach’s size and tenacity make it ideal to help victims in disaster areas.

Such an impressive leap in technology also brings with it moral dilemmas, and Japanese netizens were left conflicted about what this announcement meant for the future.

“This kind of scientific development makes our lives better, but I can’t help but think it’s kind of scary.”
“I think this is awful, but I just know when I’m hidden under a pile of rubble I’ll be wishing I had this kind of technology. I’m sure others feel the same way.”
“This kind of technology could be applied to people in the future, which is great news for paraplegic patients.”
“If you were waiting to be saved at a disaster area and a huge cockroach appeared, you’d panic even more.”
“Why use a real animal? Why not just make a whole robot instead? Seems cruel.”

The research was undertaken by Japanese scientist group Riken, and Kenjiro Fukuda, a researcher at the institute, had this to say in regards to the benefits of using real animals over robotic versions —

“‘Cyborg insects’ require significantly less energy to run. Insect-shaped robots have mechanised joints in their legs and feet, which takes an enormous amount of energy to make work, and it’s difficult to make them move smoothly like a real insect would. Using real insects only requires electrical stimulation to make them work.”

Whatever your thoughts are on this huge leap in technology and what it means for the future of roboethics, there’s no denying it’s pretty impressive, and fingers crossed will have the potential to help a lot of people.

Source: NHK News via Jin
Top image: Unsplash/Robert Thiemann,
Insert image: Riken
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