Robotic cockroaches can influence pest behaviours

November 16th, 2007 - 2:02 pm ICT by admin  

London, Nov 16 (ANI): Scientists have found a novel way to discover how groups of cockroaches make collective decisions by creating a robotic cockroach that can mix with a social group of cockroaches and influence their behaviour.

Scientist say that similar robots will help them to unravel the decision-making processes in other sociable species that carry out ‘collective behaviours’ such as deciding where to rest or selecting food sources.

Lead researcher Jose Halloy, a theoretical biologist at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, reported last year that when cockroaches have a choice of two or more shelters under which to settle, their decision is influenced by the number of cockroaches already there.

“While this kind of behaviour has been seen in groups of living animals ranging from insects to vertebrates, this study shows that autonomous robots can be used to study and control group behaviour,” Nature quoted Halloy, as saying.

To investigate the balance between cooperation and competition in group decision-making, Halloy commissioned colleagues at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland to build a series of robotic cockroaches, which didn’t actually look like cockroaches, although they were roughly cockroach-sized.

More importantly, they were made to smell like cockroaches with a coating of a cocktail of chemical compounds that are similar to those on the surface of the cockroach’s body.

As the robots were accepted into the group, they began to join in the group decision-making process and were able to control it. For example, cockroaches are nocturnal, and, if given a choice between two shelters, they’ll generally decide on the darker one. But, the Roach-bots, which had been programmed by the researchers, were able to persuade the group to choose a lighter shelter over a dark one in 60 percent of the trials.

The scientists hope that this research and other studies with animal-like robots will help us understand how animals behave and make decisions in groups.

“These experimental results show the possibility of shared and controlled collective actions between machines and animals,” they report.

However, Halloy cautions that robotic technologies are not advanced enough to make such real-world applications possible in the foreseeable future.

The study is published in Science 1. (ANI)

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