BY: DUSTIN BATTY
Rescuing survivors from a collapsed structure is an extremely dangerous endeavour. Because of the uncertain stability of the disaster area, rescue efforts are risky for everyone involved. The rescuers are in danger of falling through an unstable section of the structure, and the survivors are in danger of the structure further collapsing on top of them. For this reason, it is crucial that survivors be located as precisely as possible before the rubble is moved, to minimize the chance of further collapses or accidents.
Collapsed structures are dangerous for both those trapped inside and those trying to rescue them.
Rescue teams are already equipped with some tools that help them locate survivors. According to the Phoenix Regional Standard Operating Procedures, these tools include “search canines (if available), and specialty search equipment such as search cameras and acoustic listening devices.” An IRIS article adds “a thermal image camera system, which shows areas of body heat,” and “a carbon dioxide analyzer, which helps [them] detect people who might be unconscious but still breathing” to the list of currently available tech.
Despite all of these techniques, locating survivors with precision can still be difficult. To help solve this problem, researchers in North Carolina have been developing “biobots,” a fancy term for cyborg cockroaches. The cockroaches have been augmented with a wireless computer system that inputs directional signals into the insect’s brain, making it turn left or right, or go forward. The cybernetic component also uses very precise locating technology that keeps track of exactly where the biobot is at any given time.
Biobots are cyborg cockroaches with remote control and precise locator technologies.
These remote control cockroaches are able to safely get into small or unstable spaces and explore the area. The major hurdle that researchers are currently attempting to overcome is the fact that the people in control of the biobots will not know the layout of the collapsed structure. This means that the biobots will have to explore the structure without precise input. As a Science Daily article explains, researchers have found that, when left to wander on their own, the cockroaches prefer to stay near the walls rather than exploring the open space. In attempting to overcome this difficulty, the researchers discovered that the insects were much more likely to explore the open space if they were given frequent random directional commands. This technique shows promise for practical application in collapsed structures.
Biobugs will provide detailed maps of collapsed structures that will allow rescue efforts to be conducted more safely.
Using these directional commands and their precise locator technology, a swarm of these biobots could quickly create a map of the interior of a collapsed structure, providing invaluable information that could help rescue efforts become much safer. Edgar Lobaton, one of the co-authors of the research papers, said that the map provided by a swarm of biobots “would be of … practical use for helping to locate survivors after a disaster, finding a safe way to reach survivors, or for helping responders determine how structurally safe a building may be.”
As crazy as it might sound, it looks like cyborg cockroaches may become a staple of future disaster area rescue efforts.