Biobots: The Living Machines
How the intersection of robotics and biology blurs the lines between machine and living organisms
Welcome to the captivating world of biobots, a cutting-edge field sitting in between robotics and biology that challenges our definitions of what is a robot and what is a living organism.
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Turning insects and plants into robots
One way of creating biobots is by transforming existing organisms into cyborgs.
These projects typically follow a similar approach: researchers attach a backpack filled with electronics to the insect, which connects to its antennas, allowing them to control its movement.
Researchers in Japan experimented with cyborg cockroaches with the intention to use them in search and rescue missions after earthquakes. A swarm of those cockroaches could be released to look for survivors in the rubble.
Another team, this time from the US, has been researching turning locusts into bomb-sniffing cyborgs. Their approach involved directly interfacing with the neurons of the insect in order to listen to the locust's olfactory system. Initial experiments have shown that this idea works, and the insects are capable of detecting and differentiating various explosive materials within a few hundred milliseconds of exposure.
For those intrigued by the concept of creating their own cyborg cockroaches, there is a kit available to do that at home (not sponsored, I just find it fascinating).
It's not just insects that can be turned into cyborgs; plants can be as well. In 2015, researchers from MIT developed spinach that could detect traces of explosives in the soil. When explosives were detected, the spinach emitted a constant fluorescent signal, which was then picked up by cameras. This project showed the potential use of plants as environmental detectors.