Cyborg insects one step closer to realityMarie Donlon | September 07, 2022
A system for creating rechargeable, remote-controlled cyborg cockroaches has been developed by researchers from Japan's RIKEN Cluster for Pioneering Research (CPR).
According to its developers, the cyborg cockroaches are equipped with a tiny wireless control module powered by a rechargeable battery attached to a solar cell. Meanwhile, ultrathin electronics and flexible materials enable the cyborg cockroaches to move freely.
To incorporate all of the necessary components that would enable a part-insect part-machine cyborg device with limited surface space to possibly inspect hazardous areas or monitor the environment, the researchers created a tiny backpack, ultrathin organic solar cell modules and an adhesion system that attaches machinery to the cyborg for long periods of time while also enabling it to move around naturally.
In the lab, the researchers attached the specially designed backpack — which contained a wireless leg-control module and lithium polymer battery — to the top of 6 cm long Madagascar cockroaches. Modeled after the body of an actual cockroach, the backpack was 3D printed with an elastic polymer and fitted to the curved surface of the cockroach, thereby allowing the rigid electronic device to be mounted securely on the insect’s thorax for more than a month. Additionally, the 0.004 mm thick organic solar cell module was mounted on the dorsal side of the insect’s abdomen.
"The body-mounted ultrathin organic solar cell module achieves a power output of 17.2 mW, which is more than 50 times larger than the power output of current state-of-the art energy harvesting devices on living insects," according to the researchers.
Once the components were incorporated onto the cockroaches and the battery was charged using artificial sunlight for 30 minutes, the RIKEN team tested the new cyborgs, which were directed to turn left and right via wireless remote control.
"Considering the deformation of the thorax and abdomen during basic locomotion, a hybrid electronic system of rigid and flexible elements in the thorax and ultrasoft devices in the abdomen appears to be an effective design for cyborg cockroaches," explained the researchers. "Moreover, since abdominal deformation is not unique to cockroaches, our strategy can be adapted to other insects like beetles, or perhaps even flying insects like cicadas in the future."
The article, Integration of body-mounted ultrasoft organic solar cell on cyborg insects with intact mobility, appears in the scientific journal npj Flexible Electronics.