In the Free University laboratory in Brussels they are doing research to see how “insbots” – insect robots – can influence the behaviour of cockroaches.
The insbots are very simple, a small cube on wheels equipped with two motors, a light sensor, a mini camera and a strip of infra-red receptor/transmittors. An insbot is about the size of a matchbox and its batteries last about 4 hours. Its movements were designed from a computer programme tracking the movements of a real colony of cockroaches. The covering of the insbot is impregnated with the odour of cockroaches, so that the robot will be accepted as a cockroach by the other insects. In a white tray, with two shelters from the light, the cockroaches normally choose the best, darkest shelter. But when the insbots are programmed to prefer the lighter, less efficient shelter, the other cockroaches in the group will follow suit. So it is clear that the robots can influence the behaviour of cockroaches. No application for the science is being researched. For the time being, scientists are wondering about doing similar experiments with chickens and robots, but are concentrating on understanding how groups of animals function.