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The robot roach interacting with its live counterparts
New robots mimic, confuse live insects

A group of researchers led by Jose Halloy from the Université Libré de Bruxelles has succeeded in building a robotic cockroach convincing enough to fool the real thing. 

The robots looked nothing like real cockroaches, but were programmed with similiar behavior patterns.  Initially, the live bugs fled in fear from their robotic counterparts until Halloy hit upon the idea of coating his creations with roach pheremones.   The chemicals, which gave the robots the unique "smell" of a live roach, allowed the machines to be accepted as normal members of the roach clan. 

Most importantly, the robot cockroaches were actually able influence the behavior of the entire clan.  Normally cockroaches prefer dark places, and make a "collective" decision to pick a common shelter.  However, robotic infiltrators programmed to prefer brightly-lit shelters were often able to convince the entire roach clan to migrate to the new area.

In other cases, the live cockroaches were able to override the programming of the robots and force them to continue to nest in dark shelters.  According to Halloy, such experiments are critical to understanding the basis of biological intelligence and decision-making.

Halloy said his next step may be to build a robot chicken convincing enough for baby chicks to accept.  His research appears in the Thursday edition of the journal Science.




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