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(Watch) Robot Cockroaches and Mind-Controlled Robotic Insects Coming Soon Near You

(Watch) Robot Cockroaches and Mind-Controlled Robotic Insects Coming Soon Near You

by Giulio PriscoJune 29, 2015

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a cockroach-inspired robot that uses body streamlining to negotiate obstacles. Postdoctoral Fellow Chen Li built cockroach-like robots with rounded, streamlined carapaces that can slip through gaps thanks to their streamlined shape, outperforming typical box-like robots.

robot-cockroachMost robots deal with obstacles by avoiding them. They use maps and programmed paths to go around obstacles, and sensors to add a degree of autonomous decision-making. And that approach has worked out really well, for the most part. But tiny insect-sized robots can’t carry large, heavy, and expensive sensors.

Adaptive Micro-Robots With Minimal Sensors and Simple Controls

Therefore, the development of a tiny robot that can navigate rough terrain and tiny gaps without the use of sensors is an important innovation that could open up new applications of robotics, for example in environmental monitoring and search and rescue operations. But, after further miniaturization, very small and highly mobile robots could find also applications in combat and law enforcement – and, of course, crime.

“We showed that our robot can traverse grass-like beam obstacles at high probability, without adding any sensory feedback or changes in motor control, thanks to the thin, rounded shell that allows the robot body to roll to reduce terrain resistance.” said Li.

These new concepts will enable terrestrial robots to go through various cluttered environments with minimal sensors and simple controls.

When the robot was fitted with the cockroach-inspired rounded shell, it was much more likely to successfully move through obstacles using a roll manoeuvre similar to that observed in live cockroaches. This adaptive behavior came about with no change to the robot programming, showing that the intelligent behavior came from the shell.

The research has been published in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics with the title “Terradynamically streamlined shapes in animals and robots enhance traversability through densely cluttered terrain” (open access).

In related news, Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) postgraduate student Li Guangye, working in the Laboratory for Bio Robotics and Biological Robots, controlled a living cockroach with his mind.

The research established a functional “brain-brain interface” between human and cockroach, sending signals from the human mind to the brain of a cockroach and achieving remote wireless control of the cockroach’s action. The brain signals of the operator are picked up by EEG, decoded and converted to commands, which are sent to a backpack receiver on the back of the cockroach. The backpack then sends specific electric pulses to the cockroach’s nervous system, enabling the control of the cockroach by the operator.

Merging the two approaches would permit creating mind-controlled robotic insects.

Images from UC Berkeley and Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Our art-group “18 Apples” ( have done mind-controlled cockroach a year ago.
    Video from exhibition Medinovation Experiment#1/2014, Moscow:
    First experiments on fest GeekPicknic in Russia, SpB, 2014:

    • Giulio Prisco

      Hi Ippolit, very impressive. Note that the link to the Facebook page doesn’t work as it is – you need to remove the trailing ). Perhaps you could share some details for those who don’t read Russian?



        The project is based on the reflection with respect to the subconscious and conscious man’s fear of the unknown.

        The project consists of 3 main elements that could evoke the state of fear in human:

        1 Fear of cockroaches – subconscious protective panic reaction, expressed in rejection and disgust.

        2 Fear of new technology BCI (Brain Computer Interface) – the fear of man that someone through technology can gain power over the mind.

        3 Fear of frightening surgical manipulation – cyborgization cockroach involves implantation of electrodes in the tactile organs and thorax, followed by electrical stimulation of neurons.

        BCI cyborgization result is to obtain direct control over the biological substance, by the transfer of human brain activity in a virtual environment, with subsequent translation of a biological object.

        In the context of this work is represented by a metaphorical movement of the human mind into the body of a cockroach. Using the accumulated scientific and engineering expertise in the context of ready-made, artist reflects the idea of reincarnation.

        The reality of emancipating the mind from the body shell brings state of immortality, a new kind of science of reincarnation is born, and the cycle is closed.

        #Viva La Neurorevolution!

        • Giulio Prisco

          Thanks Ippolito, Viva La Neurorevolution! I like what you wrote but _how_ do you actually control the cyborg roach with brain waves?

          • This is a Principal scheme of Mindcontrolled cyborgroach

          • We used standard software from Emotiv to recognize mental commands. What would commands work better, we used the “visual – associative” method developed by us. The method consists in the fact that the user imagines himself a the object, which he controls. As a result, there was ravbote philosophical theme, which is described in Franz Kafka’s novel “The Metamorphosis.”

          • Giulio Prisco