It’s been 20 years since people first started talking about biochips, but a team at Tokyo University has decided that to do it all nature’s way simply takes too long – why create a source of maneuverable motive power from scratch when the insect world teems with just the thing, fully formed. Instead, the team under Assistant Professor Isao Shimoyama, head of the bio-robot research team at Tokyo University, cuts off the unwanted bits of cockroaches – the wings and the antennae – and surgically implants a micro-robotic backpack, which weighs about twice as much as the insect – in their place. Using a remote control, the researchers are then able to manipulate the mutilated roach’s movements. Within a few years, Shimoyama told the Associated Press man in Tokyo, electronically controlled insects carrying mini-cameras or other sensory devices could be used for sensitive missions such as crawling through earthquake rubble to search for victims, or slipping under doors on spying missions. Before surgery, researchers gas the roach with carbon dioxide. Wings and antennae are whipped off, and where the antennae used to be, researchers fit pulse-emitting electrodes which can be excited to make the roach turn left, turn right, scamper forward or jump backwards. A backpack-fitted roach can survive for several months, but it becomes less sensitive to the electronic pulses over time. The Japanese government reckons the experiment is worth $5m over five years and has split the funds between Shimoyama’s team and biologists at Tsukuba University. So one day, roaches could be saving our lives – if only we’re not too squeamish to invite bio-robotic roaches into our homes, and not too scrupulous to cut off their antennae.