And the robot roaches shall lead them…or something

“Many a mother has said, with a sigh, ‘If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too?’

“The answer, for cockroaches at least, may well be yes. Researchers using robotic roaches were able to persuade real cockroaches to do things that their instincts told them were not the best idea.

“This experiment in bug peer pressure combined entomology, robotics and the study of ways that complex and even intelligent patterns can arise from simple behavior. Animal behavior research shows that swarms working together can prosper where individuals might fail, and robotics researchers have been experimenting with simple robots that, together, act a little like a swarm.

“‘We decided to join the two approaches,’ said José Halloy, a biology researcher at the Free University of Brussels and lead author of a paper describing the research in today’s issue of the journal Science.

“Dr. Halloy and his colleagues worked with roaches because their societies are simple, egalitarian and democratic, with none of the social stratification seen in some other insect societies — no queen bees, no worker ants. ‘Cockroaches are not like that,’ Dr. Halloy said. ‘They live all together.’

“They also have weak eyes, which allowed the researchers to create a robotic roach that resembles a miniature golf cart more than an insect. In the roach world, however, looking right is not as important as smelling right, and the scientists doused the machines with eau de cockroach sex hormones.”
Led by Robots, Roaches Abandon Instincts, by Kenneth Change and John Schwartz, NY Times, November 16, 2007

Ew, don’t make me think about roach sex. Although I hope I’m looking at the future of pest control, and not some new DARPA initiative. Roach Brigade! Nah.

I like what the guy at KS Tracker said:

One thing is sure, cockroaches are some stupid pests. Actually all insects are brilliantly-evolved idiots.

This is probably what dolphins and house cats think of humans.

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