We first brought you the incredible story of insects being “hacked” and turned into remote control robots in 2010 when scientists announced that they discovered a new way to control flying insects using computer chips directly embedded in their brains. And now only a year later the technology is becoming more mainstream. A company by the name of Backyard Brains is bringing the robotic cockroach into classrooms and consumer hands. But will this technology, and others like it be used purely for learning? Or could we soon be hearing of the creatures being developed by terrorists and criminals to use the cockroaches for more nefarious purposes?
New technology often goes through a round of speculation just as it comes about, and remote controlled creatures will certainly be no exception. A machine that can be inserted into a cockroach’s brain in order to give the user complete control over its movements may be interesting to scientists or a fun learning experience for students, but what other applications could the system see? Many additional applications would require other things to be added to the cockroach or other insect – many of which already exist.
But there are some limitations to just what you can do with a remote control cockroach. And these limitations have made military as well as potentially nefarious applications likely fairly limited. First, the weight of the device must be not only fairly light but also allow for the cockroach itself to walk up walls and obstructions. While it may be able to carry the weight of the device on a flat plane, the roach may have difficulty then walking up walls and other surfaces. And at the moment the amount of time these devices can work is fairly limited, making the operations likely fairly short. But even a short-lived mission by robotic insects might be enough to make them a serious threat to companies with sensitive secrets.
And there is one other possibility, not being cited often. Could cockroaches one day be used as assassins? If the insect were to – for example – be somehow covered in a material was infused with either a toxin or a disease it could be guided toward a target and then commanded to crawl over the subject’s food, poisoning or infecting it. If this were the case we may one day see a whole new generation of robotically enhanced cybernetic assassin cockroaches. And if that sounds like pure science fiction, there have been other applications suggested by the scientific community, including the use of cockroaches under remote control for performing tasks in difficult to reach areas or working in concert to transport chemicals into emergency situations. And while it isn’t the cockroach’s fault, the insects have only become more creepy as time and technology progress.
While the technology to control the insects may have been around for some time, the fact that companies like Backyard Brains are bringing it into the consumer market means that we’ll no doubt be seeing modifications and other insect hacks in the coming years.