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Roaches Check In, and… Check Stuff Out?

Take one Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. Strap a wireless receiver, some electrodes, a battery, and a microcontroller to its back. What do you have?

A recipe for most people to shriek “ew” and get up on a chair, sure… but you also have a potential new ally for first responders and reconnaissance teams. Researchers at North Carolina State University have been experimenting with remote-controlled cucarachas, literally steered by wireless signals that electrically stimulate the insects’ antennae. The process is “similar to riding a horse,” says Professor Alper Bozkurt – stimulate a roach on one side, and it naturally turns toward the other. The team has modulated its pulses so they can control the sharpness and speed of turns without causing damage to their subjects’ neural tissue.

Nimble, fearless, and famously indestructible, a field-deployable team of cockroaches armed with this wireless harness and advanced micro-sensors could one day swarm into a collapsed structure or navigate a region contaminated by toxic release, have a look around, and tell human rescuers what’s what. It’s a logical step between current technology and the still fairly far-off idea of small-scale robots that could one day do a similar job. Moreover, as Bozkurt points out, millions of years of cockroach evolution provide a ready-made intelligence platform suited to survival. The machine intelligence of swarm-bots, no matter how advanced or nimble, may never manage to duplicate the instinctive ability of cockroaches to navigate hostile environments and react to threats.

The team is currently working on further shrinking the cockroaches’ “backpack” of control systems (currently about an inch long and a couple of ounces) and fine-tuning the level of navigational control they have over the little creatures. We may never be happy to see a roach in the pantry, but they might one day provide crucial intelligence to save lives in disaster areas.


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Feature Articles

Titan Puts a New Spin on GE’s Wind Turbine Research

Unlike traditional energy sources, wind is a trouble to tame, which has led GE to turn to advanced simulations at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to put the technology on track to cover 12 percent of the world's energy production.

Lighting a Fire Under Combustion Simulation

Combustion simulation might seem like the ultimate in esoteric technologies, but auto companies, aircraft firms and fuel designers need increasingly sophisticated software to serve the needs of 21st century engine designs. HPCwire recently got the opportunity to take a look at Reaction Design, one of the premier makers of combustion simulation software, and talk with its CEO, Bernie Rosenthal.

D-Wave Sells First Quantum Computer

On Wednesday, D-Wave Systems made history by announcing the sale of the world's first commercial quantum computer. The buyer was Lockheed Martin Corporation, who will use the machine to help solve some of their "most challenging computation problems." D-Wave co-founder and CTO Geordie Rose talks about the new system and the underlying technology.

Short Takes

Local Motors and ORNL Partner for Automotive Manufacturing

Jan 24, 2014 | Local Motors, a vehicle innovator, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have announced a new partnership that they hope will bring change to the automotive industry.

Robots Showcase Skills at DRC

Jan 22, 2014 | A month ago, the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials (DRC) commenced. The main goal of the event was to aid in the development of robots that will someday respond to natural or even man-made disasters. At this year’s DRC, prototype robots from 16 teams were put through a series of trials in which they were to showcase their skills.

Advanced Modeling Benefits Wind Farms

May 25, 2011 | Advanced computing resources optimize the site selection of wind farms.

Not Your Parents' CFD

Oct 13, 2010 | Outdated beliefs stand in the way of greater CFD adoption.

Manufacturers Turn to HPC to Cut Testing Costs

Oct 06, 2010 | Supercomputing saves money by reducing the need for physical testing.

Sponsored Whitepapers

Technical Computing for a New Era

07/30/2013 | IBM | This white paper examines various means of adapting technical computing tools to accelerate product and services innovation across a range of commercial industries such as manufacturing, financial services, energy, healthcare, entertainment and retail. No longer is technically advanced computing limited to the confines of big government labs and academic centers. Today it is available to a wide range of organizations seeking a competitive edge.

The UberCloud HPC Experiment: Compendium of Case Studies

06/25/2013 | Intel | The UberCloud HPC Experiment has achieved the volunteer participation of 500 organizations and individuals from 48 countries with the aim of exploring the end-to-end process employed by digital manufacturing engineers to access and use remote computing resources in HPC centers and in the cloud. This Compendium of 25 case studies is an invaluable resource for engineers, managers and executives who believe in the strategic importance of applying advanced technologies to help drive their organization’s productivity to perceptible new levels.

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