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Remote control cockroaches

By Paul Viau | Aug 14, 2013
Photo by: File photo SCARY THOUGHT — Imagine cockroaches coming to your rescue in a collapsed building. That's comforting.

In an effort to keep you informed about recent scientific developments, I have unearthed a story that really has me crawling.

Normally, good reporters never divulge their sources, but all of you know I am not a very good reporter. So I am giving credit where credit is due, to Marcia Klettner, up-front receptionist at The Mountaineer.

It was Marcia who broke the big story — which I never reported — about how the controversial tree removal in front of the courthouse left bathroom windows (How shall I say this?) a little too visible.

I know “Justice is blind,” but thanks to the maple massacre, she had an unobstructed view directly into bathroom windows, revealing silhouettes of both men and women “doing what comes naturally.”

It was alarming to her, because it confirmed her long-time suspicion that most men don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.

I did not report this story, for obvious reasons — I couldn’t get a decent picture.

Recently, Marcia — after reading my rant on roach research — forwarded a news release that crossed her desk from North Carolina State University.

The headline caught my interest — Researchers use video game technology to steer roaches on autopilot. To facilitate my writing about this study, I have given it the code name R.A.I.D. (Research Analysis of Insect Drones).

NC State researchers, obviously tapping into some defense department booty, are now using video game technology  — what a surprise? — to remotely control cockroaches. Essentially, they are steering the roaches by computer through a controlled environment, in the hopes the can one day be used to map dynamic environments — such as collapsed buildings.

How did researches come up with this idea? It’s obvious. About the only thing college students do is hang around their dorms playing video games. As they accumulate donut and pizza boxes, roaches are attracted. Eventually, one of the students throws a remote control at a roach, and “Eureka.”

“What if we didn’t have to expend any energy to scatter roaches?”

Somewhere along the way, NC State scientists teamed up with Microsoft using its motion-sensing Kinect system. The researches plot in a digital path for the cockroaches, and use Kinect to track their progress. Finally, they use Kinect tracking data to remotely steer roaches along the desired path.

All of this “Kinect time” allows researchers to disconnect from family, friends and reality.

“Our goal is to be able to guide these roaches as efficiently as possible,” said Dr. Alper Bozkurt, assistant professor and co-author of the study.

You might say he is on the steering committee for both the cockroaches and the students. His mother should be so proud.

The goal of this program is to use small groups of cockroaches to explore and map disaster sites to aid rescuers. The cockroaches would be equipped with sensors and microphones to detect survivors in collapsed buildings. The roaches might even be equipped with speakers, permitting rescuers to communicate with anyone trapped.

Personally, I think with college students doing this study, it might just turn into cockroach karaoke — or worse.

A simple Google search of the words cockroach remote control brings up sites that already boast, “Control this roach via Twitter.” This should work — everyone knows that roaches have a ‘tweet tooth. (Sorry.)

This story has also been caught the attention of (I’m not making this up) NBC News technology reporter, John Roach.

Go ahead and Google more information about cockroaches if you want. Do it remotely if you have an Internet TV.

As for me, I’m starting to feel sorry for these poor, innocent creatures.

So I’m going to listen to a little Rolling Stones — “I’ll never be your beast of burden.”

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