RoboRoach "models" (via Backyard Brain)


Sometimes science can be a little gruesome especially when it concerns progress in areas such as the medical field. Other times it can be a bit on the strange side, which is the case when it comes to Backyard Brains current endeavor. The neuroscience grad-student team has developed a way to manipulate and control cockroaches using a smartphone. In order to actually control the roach, the team designed a specialized PCB board (known as a backpack) that sends electrical impulses to the roach in order to control its direction of movement. Roaches house neurons in their antenna that are sensitive to both touch as well as smell and use them for navigation. When the antennas contact obstacles such as a wall, it sends an electrical signal to the brain that informs the invertebrate of the object allowing it to change direction. Backyard Brains takes advantage of those electrical impulses by performing minor surgery and implanting a series (3 total) of electrodes inside the roach’s antenna that connect to the backpack. A third electrode is inserted into the bug’s exoskeleton in the thorax section, which is also used to control the roach’s movement. Controlling the roach is done through Backyard Brains RoboRoach app (available for both iPhone and Android mobile devices) which sends directional commands wirelessly (using Bluetooth) to the backpack which in turn sends an electrical ‘spike’ to the appropriate antenna to move the roach. According to the company’s website, the surgery (starting with anesthetizing the roach) takes around 45 minutes to accomplish and after a few hours of recovery, the cyborg roach is ready to go.


Controlling the roach lasts for only a few minutes before it is able to adapt and overcome the artificial electrical impulses, however the bug will ‘forget’ its adaptation after 20 minutes of being inside its cage for down-time. After a few days (2 to 7) the roach will adapt completely to the electrical impulses and control is no longer possible after which the electrodes and backpack can be safely be removed with no lasting side effects. Backyard Brains is looking for funding on Kickstarter to develop a new streamlined PCB backpack and have so far received over $7,000 US with a goal of $10,000. Those pledging $100 or more will receive the RoboRoach kit, which includes 3 electrode sets, the backpack and a 1632 RoboRoach battery. The company also sells South American roaches by the box (for $24) but states that their kit can also be used on crickets as well. While Backyard Brains RoboRoach control kit may sound like fun for most users, others frown on the whole idea of surgically altered insects. PETA (believe it or not) released a statement about the RoboRoach kit and finds the surgical process as ‘retrogressive and morally dubious’ even though the kit was designed for educational purposes in the neuroscience field. The question remains however if actual medical progress can be reached by controlling the roaches wirelessly.

Like a hero from a sci-fi film, all I want is for the RoboRoach to escape its overlord’s control.




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