BBC News : Robot 'pied piper' leads roaches

Quote Originally Posted by BBC
European scientists introduced tiny autonomous robots into an "arena" where cockroaches were allowed to run free.

They wanted to see whether the robots would be accepted by the insects and whether they could influence their collective decision-making process.
The robots - built by Jose Halloy, from the Free University in Brussels, Belgium, and colleagues - do not look at all like cockroaches.

But by covering the robots in filter paper infused with cockroach pheromones, the researchers were able to fool the animals into thinking the automatons were genuine members of their group.
Dr Halloy and his colleagues first programmed the robots to have the same darkness preference as the cockroaches. Then, they programmed them to prefer the lighter shelters.

About 60% of the time, the robots tipped the insect group's preference towards congregating in the lighter shelter.

"On one hand we are very interested in understanding the sociability of animals. On another hand, engineers are very interested in building autonomous systems," said Jose Halloy, of the reasons behind the research.

Daniela Rus, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), US, speculated that the work could have several applications, such as pest control robots that lure insects into traps. Bigger robots built to this general blueprint might one day be used to herd livestock.
Insects are simple animals. They do not rely on their eyesight or hearing like us, but mostly on pheronome signals. This is how bees or ants organise themselves so efficiently. This is how sociable insects also send emergency signals to the rest of the group.

Therefore, if we can master their behaviour thanks to a robot emitting such or such pheronome (so far the robot can produce pheromone), we could be able to control insects. This is a scary prospects as thousands of bees or hornets could be used to attack some people given that some had the will and means to do so.