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The device for controlling the cockroach was taught to collect data on its movements

Abhishek Dutta / UConn

American engineers have created a board to control the movement of the cockroach with the help of electrostimulation of its antennae. Unlike similar developments, the new board allows you to collect information about the movement of the beetle and the surrounding temperature. The development was presented at the CCN 2018 conference.

There are a lot of devices that allow you to control the movement of insects with the help of stimulation of neurons. As a rule, for this purpose an electric current with a certain frequency of pulses and voltage is used, in addition, there are developments that allow activating neurons, affecting them with light. In order for an insect to move with such a device, it must be light enough and compact, so that while existing prototypes have only basic functions that provide control.

Evan Faulkner and Abhishek Dutta from the University of Connecticut have created a device for managing the Madagascar sizzling cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa), which allows to collect more data. It is based on a small microcontroller with a processor, memory and Bluetooth-transmitter for receiving commands and transferring the collected data. In addition, the device has a potentiometer for changing the voltage pulses, as well as a measuring unit for tracking the movement of the cockroach along six axes and the surrounding temperature, which affects the movement of the insect. The device is powered by a miniature lithium battery.

The developers carried out the primary tests of the device, attaching the two electrodes from it to the bases of the antennae. Electric impulses with certain characteristics create in the cockroach the illusion that it crashed into the obstacle, after which it shifts in the opposite direction from the obstacle. Thus, when stimulated with the right electrode, it is shifted to the left and vice versa.

Engineers note that the receipt of data on the movement of cockroaches in real time will allow in the future to develop an automated system that will independently compensate for deviations and impulses in such a way that the cockroach moves to a given point.
There are other approaches to creating devices for controlling the movement of insects. For example, in 2016, engineers created a system of electrodes that are implanted in each leg of the beetle and allow stimulation of the leg muscles themselves, rather than indirectly controlling from contraction through stimulation of the antennae and creating an illusion of obstruction. Thanks to the stimulation of individual muscles, the developers managed to achieve different speeds of movement and different gait in insects.

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