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SAITAMA — If an earthquake hits in the near future and survivors are trapped under tons of rubble, the first to find them may be swarms of cyborg cockroaches.

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This is one possible application of recent developments by Japanese researchers who demonstrated the ability to mount “backpacks” of solar cells and electronics on insects and control their movements via remote control.

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Kenjiro Fukuda and his team at the Thin Film Device Laboratory at Japanese research company Rikken developed a flexible solar cell film that is 4 microns thick, about 1/25 the width of a human hair, and can fit on the stomach of an insect. Is.

The film allows the roach to move freely while the solar cell generates enough power to process and send directional signals to sensory organs on the back of the insect.

The work builds on previous insect control experiments at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and could one day lead to cyborg insects that can enter dangerous areas more effectively than robots.

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“Batteries inside small robots run out quickly, so search time is reduced,” Fukuda said. “One of the main advantages (of the cyborg worm) is that when it comes to moving a worm, the worm causes itself to move, so the power required is nowhere near as high.”

Fukuda and his team chose Madagascar hissing cockroaches for the experiments because they are large enough to carry cargo and have no wings that get in the way. Even when bags and film are taped to their backs, insects can jump over small obstacles or right themselves when flipped over.

Research still has a long way to go. In a recent demonstration, Raikkonen researcher Yujiro Kaki used a special computer and a wireless Bluetooth signal to tell a cyborg roach to turn left, causing it to veer in that general direction. But when the “correct” signal was given, the bug turned in circles.

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The next challenge is to miniaturize the components so that the bugs can move more easily and allow sensors and even cameras to be mounted. Kaki said he built the Cyborg bag from 5,000 yen ($35) worth of parts bought in Tokyo’s popular Akihabara electronics district.

The bag and film can be removed, allowing the roaches to return to life in a lab terrarium. The worms mature in four months and have been known to live up to five years in captivity.

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Beyond disaster rescue bugs, Fukuda sees wide applications for solar cell film, which consists of microscopic layers of plastic, silver and gold. The film can be made into a garment or skin patch for use in monitoring vital signs.

On a sunny day, a canopy covered with the material can generate enough electricity to charge a mobile phone, he said.

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