A robotic cockroach? Read on!

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Sarah: For those of you interested in robots, Science magazine has focussed a recent edition (volume 318, issue 5853) on these mechanical devices.  The best part is a free 30 minute podcast (available in MP3 and transcript form) which features a fascinating interview concerning robotic cockroaches. The cockroach microrobots have been created by a group of Belgian researchers in order to learn about the collective decision-making behaviour of these charming insects. While not physical mimics of cockroaches (thank goodness for that – gross!), the matchbox-sized microrobots are accepted into cockroach society as a result of being (1) pheromone-infused and (2) capable of physically wandering amongst the insect groups. The studies showed that cockroaches, although not examples of social insects like ants or bees, do make collective decisions about behaviours such as taking shelter.  Modulating the behaviour of the microrobots could be used to sway the behaviour of a whole group of cockroaches. I wonder if I could hire one of those things to persuade any cockroaches lurking in my house to march out into the waiting beaks of the resident backyard magpies? Forget about Jetsons-style mechanical help with mopping and dusting, that’s what I would call a useful robot.

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