You may have missed this month’s issue of Oriental Insects, in which a project by [Ildar Rakhmatulin] Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh caught our attention. [Ildar] led a team of researchers in the development of an AI-controlled laser that neutralizes moving cockroaches at distances of up to 1.2 meters. Noting the various problems using chemical pesticides for pest control, his team sought out a non-conventional approach.
The heart of the pest controller is a Jetson Nano, which uses OpenCV and Yolo object detection to find the cockroaches and galvanometers to steer the laser beam. Three different lasers were used for testing, allowing the team to evaluate a range of wavelengths, power levels, and spot sizes. Unsurprisingly, the higher power 1.6 W laser was most efficient and quicker.
The project is on GitHub (here) and the cockroach machine learning image set is available here. But [Ildar] points out in the conclusion of the report, this is dangerous. It’s suitable for academic research, but it’s not quite ready for general use, lacking any safety features. This report is full of cockroach trivia, such as the average speed of a cockroach is 4.8 km/h, and they run much faster when being zapped. If you want to experiment with cockroaches yourself, a link is provided to a pet store that sells the German Blattela germanica that was the target of this report.
If this project sounds familiar, it is because it is an improvement of a previous project we wrote about last year which used similar techniques to zap mosquitoes.
Take a dozen or so fish hooks, progressively embed them in plastic with a 3D printer and attach them to the feet of your hexapod and you’ve got a giant cockroach!
A team of researchers at Carnagie Mellon University came up with this ingenious hack which can easily be copied by anybody with a hexpod and a 3D printer. Here you can see the hooks embedded into the ends of a leg. This ‘Microspine technology’ enables their T-RHex robot to climb up walls at a slightly under-whelming 55 degrees, but also grants the ability to cling on severe overhangs.
Our interpretation of these results is that the robot needs to release and place each foot in a much more controlled manner to stop it from falling backwards. But researchers do have plans to help improve on that behavior in the near future.
Sensing and Closed Loop Control: As of now, T-RHex moves with an entirely open-loop, scripted gait. We believe that performance can be improved by adding torque sensing to the leg and tail actuators, which would allow the robot to adapt to large-scale surface irregularities in the wall, detect leg slip before catastrophic detachment,and automatically use the tail to balance during wall climbs.This design path would require a platform overhaul, but offers a promising controls-based solution to the shortcomings of our gait design.
No doubt we will all now want to build cockroaches that will out perform the T-RHex. Embedding fish hooks into plastic is done one at a time. During fabrication, the printer is stopped and a hook is carefully laid down by human hand. The printer is turned on once again and another layer of plastic laid down to fully encapsulate the hook. Repeat again and again!
Your robot would need the aforementioned sensing and closed loop control and also the ‘normal’ array of sensors and cameras to enable autonomy with the ability to assess the terrain ahead. Good luck, and don’t forget to post about your projects (check out Hackaday.io if you need somewhere to do this) and tip us off about it! We’ve seen plenty of, sometimes terrifying, hexapod projects, but watch out that the project budget does not get totally out of control (more to be said about this in the future).
Have you ever wanted to control an army of cockroaches? We’ve all seen remote control cockroaches before — and they really are quite a fascinating specimen to work with — but did you know you can control one for about $30 worth of components, with a Arduino Micro?
It’s actually pretty simple. By stimulating a cockroaches antenna with variable frequencies (to mimic neural signals) you can convince the cockroach that they’ve hit a wall and should turn the other way. What results is a remote-controlled roach. How cool is that!
[Greg Gage] and some of the other crew at Backyard Brains have done a TED talk, had a few successful Kickstarters, and most surprisingly given that pedigree, are actually doing something interesting, fun, and educational. They’re bringing neuroscience to everyone with a series of projects and kits that mutilate cockroaches and send PETA into a tizzy.
[Greg] demonstrated some of his highly modified cockroaches by putting a small Bluetooth backpack on one. The roach had previously been ‘prepared’ by attaching small electrodes to each of its two front antennas. The backpack sends a small electrical signal to the antennae every time I swiped the screen of an iPhone. The roach thinks it’s hitting a wall and turns in the direction I’m swiping, turning it into a roboroach. We seen something like this before but it never gets old.
Far from being your one stop shop for cockroach torture devices, Backyard Brains also has a fairly impressive lab in the basement of their building filled with grad students and genetically modified organisms. [Cort Thompson] is working with fruit flies genetically modified so a neuron will activate when they’re exposed to a specific pulse of light. It’s called optogenetics, and [Cort] has a few of these guys who have an ‘I’m tasting something sweet’ neuron activated when exposed to a pulse of red light.
Of course controlling cockroaches is one thing, and genetically engineering fruit flies is a little more impressive. How about controlling other people? After being hooked up to an EMG box to turn muscle actuation in my arm into static on a speaker, [Greg] asked for a volunteer. [Jason Kridner], the guy behind the BeagleBone, was tagging along with us, and stepped up to have two electrodes attached to his ulnar nerve. With a little bit of circuitry that is available in the Backyard Brains store, I was able to control [Jason]’s wrist with my mind. Extraordinarily cool stuff.
There was far too much awesome stuff at Backyard Brains for a video of reasonable length. Not shown includes projects with scorpions, and an improved version of the roboroach that gives a roach a little bit of encouragement to move forward. We’ll put up a ‘cutting room floor’ video of that a bit later.
If one hack that controls amputated cockroach legs this week wasn’t enough for you, we’ve got another.
Earlier this week we saw two neuroscientists at Backyard Brains put on a show at a TED talk by connecting an amputated cockroach leg (don’t worry, they grow back) to a $100 electronic device called the SpikerBox. The SpikerBox allows students to explore the world of axons and action potentials by listening in on the electronic signals generated by the hair on the legs of a cockroach. For the finale for their TED talk, the SpikerBox guys attached an MP3 player to the cockroach leg, causing the now dead appendage to dance a little jig.
This new build – the Salt Shaker from Thinker Thing again allows students to amputate cockroach legs, pin them down with electrodes, and cause muscle contractions with the sound of science. Thinker Thing took this one step further than the neuroscientists at Backyard Brains; now you can control a cockroach leg with your mind.
The folks at Thinker Thing are using an off the shelf EEG system from Emotiv to capture the alpha, beta, and delta brainwaves of their new human test subjects. By interpreting these brain signals, they can convert these small variations in cerebral electrical activity to sound files. From there, it’s simply a matter of plugging in the Salt Shaker and moving a cockroach leg with your mind.
In the video after the break you can check out the folks at Thinker Thing playing around with their Salt Shaker and controlling a cockroach leg with a team member’s mind.
Neuroscientists [Tim Marzullo] and [Greg Gage] wanted a way to get kids interested in neuroscience. What they came up with isn’t terribly far from something found in Frankenstein’s lab; by amputating a cockroach’s leg and attaching electrodes, they’re able to listen to the sound of neurons firing. For an even cooler demonstration, they’re able to apply a little bit of current to the leg and make the leg dance to the beat of the Beastie Boys.
The guys published an article in PLOS One and gave a TED talk demonstrating their SpikerBox, as they call their invention, to the masses. The basic idea is to amplify the electricity generated by cockroach neurons firing. By listening in on the neurons with an iPad app, [Tim] and [Greg] can set the threshold of the recording to detect the action potential of an individual neuron, and listen in on exactly what happens when a single neuron fires.
It seems like a great tool to explain the very basics of what a nervous system – and a brain, both cockroach and human – actually is. In the video after the break, you can see [Greg] playing around with individual cockroach neurons. After that, [Greg] plays the Beastie’s High Plains Drifter into the leg making the muscles contract. Truly, The Sounds of Science.
The roach is being controlled to perfectly follow a line on the floor. One of the things that makes this iteration work so well is that the microcontroller includes a new type of ADC-based feedback loop for the stimulation of the insect brain. This helps to ensure that the roach will not grow accustom to the stimulation and stop responding to it. Since this variety of insect can live for about two years, this breakthrough makes it into a reusable tool. We’re not sure what that tool will be used for, but perhaps the next plague of insects will be controlled by man, and not mother nature.