A Robot cockroach with solar panels

Flexible solar panels don’t interfere with ‘robot’ cockroaches’ movements and can charge electronics they carry for half an hour

Microrobots can be used for a variety of tasks such as finding people under rubble or exploring unknown environments. While some developers are working on conventional microrobots, others are working on turning live insects into robots. A few years ago, scientists managed to control the movement of cockroaches using electrodes connected to the nervous system. Now the system has been significantly improved: wireless communication modules to power “on-board” electronics, rechargeable batteries and solar panels have been added to the robotic cockroach’s arsenal. The Scientists at the (RIKEN) in Japan wrote about this in an article published in the NPJ journal Flexible Electronics.

Kenjiro Fukuda and his colleagues studied Madagascar cockroaches about 6 centimeters long. To house the necessary components, the scientists designed a comfortably shaped “backpack” that fits snugly on the cockroach’s back. The structure, 3D printed from a flexible polymer and held in place with adhesive, has been securely in place for over a month. Rigid and relatively bulky components such as microchips and communication systems are placed in this “backpack”. On the back of the cockroach’s abdomen, the scientists installed some organic solar panels that are only 0.004 millimeters thick. At 17.2 milliwatts, they are dozens of times more capable than other energy sources that have so far been able to be used to produce insect robots. These panels are ultra-thin and flexible, connecting only to various parts of the cockroach’s exoskeleton. When the abdomen flexing, they follow the movement and do not restrict the roach’s movement.

Experiments in the lab showed that the robot cockroach could be charged in half an hour under simulated solar radiation, after which the robot cockroach could follow instructions received via wireless communication for two hours.

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