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American Association for the Advancement of Science

'Roach-bots' guide cockroach swarms

Cockroaches and robots interacting for common shelter selection.

When a handful of cockroach-like robots joined a group of real roaches, the roach-bots coaxed the whole group to behave in unusual ways, researchers report in a new study.

Cockroaches and robots interacting for common shelter selection.

Jose Halloy of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, in Brussels, Belgium and a team of researchers from France and Switzerland wanted to study how animals that move in swarms make group decisions and travel together.

The scientists built a series of robotic cockroaches, which didn’t actually look like cockroaches, although they were roughly cockroach-sized. More importantly, they smelled like cockroaches – they were coated in a blend 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 take part in the group decision-making process and were able to influence it.

For example, cockroaches like the dark, and, if given a choice between two shelters, they’ll usually pick the darker one. But, the roach-bots, which had been programmed by the researchers, were able to coax the group to choose a lighter shelter over a dark one.

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. The research appears in the 16 November issue of the journal Science.