Proving once again that this is Luc Besson's world, and we're just living in it, the world has moved one step closer to the Fifth Element. That's right, remote-controlled cockroaches. The iBionicS Lab at North Carolina State recently presented a paper at the IEEE describing a robotics system for controlling a cockroach.
They implanted a circuit on a cockroach with controls on its cerci — an abdominal sensing organ which sends it scuttling forward; and on the antennae to control left and right movement. With circuitry embedded in its back, the cockroach was controlled precisely enough to follow a curved line drawn on the floor.
The proposed design should also be more reliable than ones we've seen before, thanks to a mooted on-board verification system that can tell if the delicate tissue-electrode interface is still reliable, or is being damaged.
We're a long way from creating robots that are as small and stable as insects, so a remote-control cockroach or other insect might easily be able to make its way into a disaster site, and go places humans and rescue animals can't.
Of course, this is hardly the first round of remote bugs we've seen. DARPA's been working on this sort of thing for years, and last year a University team developed a way of steering a cockroach using modified electronics from an off the shelf toy. You can even put one together yourself, if you have a spare cockroach or two who won't mind too much.