RoboRoach: Now you can create your very own cyborg cockroach
A new Kickstarter project aims to launch the next 'neuro revolution' by teaching about brain stimulation and cockroach surgery.
Tue, Jun 11, 2013 at 10:35 AM
Photo: Backyard Brains
Okay, so here's something you might not know about: a Kickstarter project to create a device that would allow you to control cyborg cockroaches with your mobile phone.
Yup, you read that right. Created by the Michigan-based team at Backyard Brains, the RoboRoach project is billed as "the world's first commercially available cyborg." For a $100 pledge to the Kickstarter project, you'll get a tiny Bluetooth device (they've dubbed it a "backpack") that you can attach to a cockroach. (For a pledge of $150, you also get 12 cockroaches.) After that, you'll be able to control the insect's movements with your smartphone, directing it left or right with a swipe of your finger. (Those appear to be the only options. What, no reverse?)
No, this isn't an attempt to create an unstoppable cyborg cockroach army for world domination. It's being billed as a tool to help teach people about how brains work. The RoboRoach backpack stimulates the nerves in a cockroach's brain with "very small electric pulses," which is similar to the technology used in deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson's disease and deafness with cochlear implants. As the creators say in their video pitch (below), putting this technology in the hands of younger people could start a "neuro revolution" and (ahem) stimulate further advances in this field.
The Backyard Brains folks have been working on this idea for a few years now. Their initial prototypes were too big and heavy for the cockroaches, and the $10,000 they hope to raise through Kickstarter will go toward further refinements.
It's worth noting that the "backpack" doesn't exactly work right out of the box. You'll actually need to perform some surgery on your cockroach to get it to work, a process that involves snipping off its antenna and inserting wires into its thorax. Backyard Brains co-founder Timothy Marzullo told Wired.co.uk that this doesn't permanently impair the cockroaches. "The RoboRoaches are typically only used for a week and then retired to make more cockroaches until they effectively die of old age (two to three years for a cockroach). We also emphasize the backpack is only on for a couple minutes. We emphasize the cockroach eventually adapts to the stimulation and ignores it." Wired says this opens up a few questions, such as whether or not remote control of animals is ethical and what happens to the cockroaches after the experiment is over? Neither Backyard Brains nor the cockroaches had immediate answers.
For more information on the RoboRoach, visit the company's Kickstarter campaign (which runs through July 9) or watch their slightly tongue-in-cheek video below:
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