Study: 'Biobots' may help map hidden, dangerous environments

Oct. 17, 2013 at 7:03 PM

RALEIGH, N.C., Oct. 17 (UPI) -- A swarm of insect cyborgs, or "biobots," may one day allow the mapping of unknown and dangerous environments such as collapsed buildings, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers from North Carolina State University say they have have developed software that could track a swarm of biobots, such as remotely controlled cockroaches, equipped with electronic sensors and released into a collapsed building or other hard-to-reach area.

"We focused on how to map areas where you have little or no precise information on where each biobot is, such as a collapsed building where you can't use GPS technology," electrical and computer engineering Professor Edgar Lobaton said.

Because the biobots couldn't be tracked by GPS, their precise locations would be unknown, but the sensors would signal researchers via radio waves whenever biobots got close to each other.

The researchers would send a signal commanding the biobots to keep moving until they encounter a wall or other unbroken surface, then keep moving along it, a technique called "wall following."

Repeating cycles of random movement and "wall following" would eventually allow the creation of a map of the unknown environment, they said.

"This would give first responders a good idea of the layout in a previously unmapped area," Lobaton said.

The researchers report they've tested the software using computer simulations and robots and have plans to test the program with biobots.

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