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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

RoboRoach: Control a live cyborg cockroach from your phone

How are your surgery skills, and how do you feel about using them on a creepy crawly cockroach? If your answers are between "excellent" and "I'm willing to find out," there's now a way to create your very own, smartphone-controlled cyborg insect.
RoboRoach, from Backyard Brains -- the same science-minded folks who played Cypress Hill to a squid -- is not for the squeamish. Like many of the group's experiments and projects, it requires at least some vivisection.
The way it works is pretty interesting. A cockroach gets around by relying partly on its antennae. Sensitive to touch and smell, the antennae signal what to avoid, such as walls, and where the insect can find food. The RoboRoach rig runs a wire down each antenna to artificially stimulate the nerve, allowing Bluetooth commands to be sent to the bug to tell it where to go.
(Credit: Backyard Brains)
While this isn't the first time we've seen a cyborg cockroach, such creations are now crawling into the public sphere. The RoboRoach kit, which comes with a minimum $100 pledge, consists of the "backpack" and helmet, recording electrodes, and a battery. You need to supply your own Bluetooth device, insect, and surgery (you can anesthetize a cockroach by putting it in a container of iced water, no fancy drugs required).

"The RoboRoach is the world's first commercially available cyborg!" Backyard Brains said. "That's right... a real-life insect cyborg! Part cockroach and part machine. This is not a gimmick... just good ol' fashion neuroscience, evolution and engineering."The team is very careful to note that this is not a gimmick or a toy; it's a learning tool for observing neural control.
For those who have ethical concerns about performing experiments on live creatures, Backyard Brains acknowledges that "our experiments are not philosophically perfect and without controversy," and posted a response to the most common qualms.
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