UNDATED (CNN) -- When most people see cockroaches, they want to search and destroy. But, scientists are now working with the creepy crawlers to get them to search and rescue.
Next time you see a roach and panic, try imagining it's coming to rescue you wearing its computer chip backpack. You're looking at a prototype for the search and rescue roach. Dr. Alper Bozkurt says, "Biobots as we call them or biological robots."
Bozkurt and his electrical engineering students at North Carolina State University have been installing circuit boards and microcontrollers on Madagascar hissing roaches. Using a joystick they can steer the roach along a chosen pathway by applying a tiny electrical current to the antennas and other sensors on the bug.
Stimulating the antenna makes the roach think there's an obstacle that it veers away from. The researchers compare it to riding a horse, pulling on the reins to direct it.
Though often the roaches disregard the electrical nudging, the robo roach is sort of the biological cousin of the robo mule designed to carry 400 pounds worth of stuff, or the robo cheetah that goes 28 miles per hour, or the fictional robo spiders in minority report.
But unlike the spiders zapping tom cruise, the roaches getting zapped would be the good guys going where neither dog nor man can fit, equipped with cameras and sensors designed to find humans buried in rubble. The robo roach project just got a $880,000 grant from the national science foundation. When the top of the roach antenna gets chopped off, and an electrode inserted, some animal lovers may hiss.
Entomologists say it's hard to say what a roach feels, they have nerves yet such a primitive system that it's likely they don't perceive pain like we do.
But what about the human suffering seeing a swarm of robo roaches could induce? Note to survivors: do not step...on the rescue roach.
If it's wearing a backpack, think of it as the st. Bernard of roaches.