Swarms of insects instrumented with wireless electronic backpacks have previously been proposed for potential use in search and rescue operations. Before deploying such biobot swarms, an effective long-term neural-electric stimulus interface must be established, and the locomotion response to various stimuli quantified. To this end, we studied a variety of pulse types (mono- vs. bipolar; voltage- vs. current-controlled) and shapes (amplitude, frequency, duration) to parameters that are most effective for evoking locomotion along a desired path in the Madagascar hissing cockroach (G. portentosa) in response to antennal and cercal stimulation. We identified bipolar, 2 V, 50 Hz, 0.5 s voltage controlled pulses as being optimal for evoking forward motion and turns in the expected contraversive direction without habituation in ≈50% of test subjects, a substantial increase over ≈10% success rates previously reported. Larger amplitudes for voltage (1-4 V) and current (50-150 μA) pulses generally evoked larger forward walking (15.6-25.6 cm; 3.9-5.6 cm/s) but smaller concomitant turning responses (149 to 80.0 deg; 62.8 to 41.2 deg/s). Thus, the radius of curvature of the initial turn-then-run locomotor response (≈10-25 cm) could be controlled in a graded manner by varying the stimulus amplitude. These findings could be used to help optimize stimulus protocols for swarms of cockroach biobots navigating unknown terrain.
Erickson, J. C., Herrera, M., Bustamante, M., Shingiro, A., Bowen, T., & Lazzari, C. R. (2015). Effective stimulus parameters for directed locomotion in Madagascar hissing cockroach biobot. PLoS ONE, 10(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0134348