Researchers have been working with tiny robots based on cockroaches as well as with actual roaches—controlled by an embedded chip— to explore collapsed buildings and other dangerous, hard-to-penetrate environments where the GPS doesn’t work

Send In the Cockroach Squad


Oct. 18, 2013 9:16 p.m. ET

Most people hate cockroaches, but in an earthquake, the bugs may someday prove to be lifesavers. Researchers have been working with tiny robots based on cockroaches as well as with actual roaches—controlled by an embedded chip—as a possible means of exploring collapsed buildings and other dangerous, hard-to-penetrate environments where the Global Positioning System doesn’t work.Now researchers at North Carolina State University have developed software that can map an unseen structure based on the known habits of robots or “biobots,” as the cyborg roaches are known, potentially enabling “a swarm robotic system to find and rescue survivors,” as the scientists put it in their paper.

Imagine a swarm of roaches equipped with electronic sensors and transmitters, and turned loose in a building felled by an earthquake. Scientists know that roaches tend to move about fairly randomly until they encounter a wall, at which point they follow the wall. Roaches are also known to stop when they encounter other roaches, and they hang out with the group for a while. After such collisions, they resume their random walks.

These natural behaviors are useful in exploiting roaches because biobot batteries don’t have much power, so sending the creatures a lot of instructions wastes precious energy.

Modeling the behavior of common German roaches by computer, the scientists found they could use the data generated by the roaches’ movements to quickly develop a rough and ready sketch of an unseen environment. “This would give first responders a good idea of the layout in a previously unmapped area,” said Edgar Lobaton, one of the scientists.

The next step is for the researchers to try out their software using real robots and, perhaps eventually, real roaches.

—”Topological Mapping of Unknown Environments Using an Unlocalized Robotic Swarm,” Alireza Dirafzoon and Edgar J. Lobaton, to be presented Nov. 3-8 at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers/Robotics Society of Japan International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, Tokyo.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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