In 1916, Don Marquis of The New York Evening Sun began including in his daily column regular dispatches from Archy, a cockroach who sneaked into the office at night and wrote satiric commentary on the issues of the day by jumping up and down on the keys of Marquis' typewriter.
The column ran for 10 years but survived, along with Archy's feline sidekick, Mehitabel, as a comic strip, in anthologies and later as a Broadway musical. Marquis, it turns out, may have been well ahead of his day in formulating cockroaches with useful talents.
Scientists at North Carolina State, according to CBS News in Charlotte, have developed a miniature electronic backpack with a microcontroller to employ cockroaches to search out victims trapped in collapsed buildings and other disaster areas not immediately accessible by humans.
Cockroaches, as anybody knows who has ever been afflicted with them, can squeeze through the tiniest cracks, skitter up vertical surfaces and seem largely immune to the normal methods of insect dissuasion.2 comments on this story
These Madagascar hissing cockroaches, to be exact, seem amenable to being directed by wireless signals directed at their sensory organs. They're up to the task of lugging around a tiny pack containing a circuit board, a microcontroller, a receiver, assorted electrodes and a lithium-ion battery.
Trapped deep in a collapsed building might be the only circumstance under which a human being who is not an entomologist would be happy to see a cockroach, even one who hisses. And following the example of Marquis and Archy, they might be able to teach the cockroach to text message.