[00:04] Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot
"Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot" is an experimental robotic system that uses a live insect as the controller, or driver, of a three-wheeled robot.
[00:30] Robot Control
The system is controlled by a Giant Madagascan Hissing Cockroach, about 5 cm, or 2 inches, in length. The insect is placed on top of a modified computer trackball, with an adjustable harness that helps the insect stay on top of the ball. The ball operates like a two axis treadmill that controls the motion of the larger robot: as the cockroach moves forward on the ball, the robot moves forward. If the cockroach scurries to the left, the robot moves to the left. If the cockroach scurries to the right, the robot moves to the right.
[01:25] Sensors & Feedback
The robot also features a navigation and sensor system to help the insect avoid smashing the robot into nearby objects. An array of distance sensors looks out in front of the robot. When an object is a few feet in front of the robot, the sensors detect the object and shine lights toward the insect from the direction of the obstacle.
Banks of small lights are positioned around the front of the cockroach in attempt to build an immersive, virtual environment. Since cockroaches tend to avoid light, the insect should -- in theory -- turn into the dark and therefore steer the robot away from obstacles.
This project is inspired by three key influences.
First:. Biomimetics. an approach to technological development that looks toward living, organic systems as a source of inspiration. Specifically within the field of robotics, cockroaches are admired and used as models for the navigation logic and physical construction of mobile robotic systems.
Second: The Cyborg. Popular culture appears to have a recurring interest in the human-machine and animal-machine hybrid. This project strives to construct a literal cybernetic organism that plays in and off of cultural and scientific visions of synthetic and organic hybridity.
Thirdly, the Computational and Biological. This project, in essence, is a robotic system in which the computer based microcontroller is replaced with a biologically-based insect. In the process, the operating machine highlights key characteristics of being biological. The robot and insect display attributes like unpredictability, laziness, irrationality and emotional response.
[03:32] Audience Response
The mobility of the robot makes the intentions of the insect legible to a wide and diverse audience. Individuals tend to watch the robot for extended periods of time, empathizing with the insect, and trying to discern whether or not the organism is controlling or being controlled by the technology... and whether it is aware of, immersed in, or pleased by its synthetic and mediated environment.
[04:15] Garnet Hertz 2006