Sure, they’re a little funny-looking, and wider than the rest, and they’ve got these weird little lights, but none of that seemed to matter to the cockroaches enlisted in a group behavior experiment with tiny robots.

Scientists dropped the robo-insects into a controlled environment with natural cockroaches to determine whether the machines, acting without intervention from the researchers, could influence the real thing. In these games of follow-the-leader, the robots managed to lead the cockroaches to inappropriate shelters. Since these weren’t the kind of spots the roaches would’ve normally picked, the behavior indicated that the robots had some sway. They actually fit in.

The goal of the research, which is published in the current issue of Science, is to someday use these smart, independent robots to study the behavioral patterns of group-friendly animals.—Gregory Mone