The RoboRoach Backpack
The RoboRoach Backpack
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Are you a teacher or parent that wants to teach a student about advanced neurotechnologies? You are in luck! We are excited to announce the world's first commercially available cyborg! With our RoboRoach you can briefly wirelessly control the left/right movement of a cockroach by microstimulation of the antenna nerves. The RoboRoach is a great way to engage with neural microstimulation, learning, and electronics!
We are recently ran a successfully-funded kickstarter campaign to fund the release of our new RoboRoach! The hardware and firmware development complete and we are now shipping!
The RoboRoach "backpack" weighs 4.4 grams with the battery, and each battery will last over a month! Following a brief surgery you perform on the cockroach to attach the silver electrodes to the antenna, you can attach the backpack to the roach and control its movement for a few minutes before the cockroach adapts. When you return the cockroach to its cage for ~20 minutes, they "forget" and the stimulation works again. Once you receive your RoboRoach in the mail, follow our online surgery instructions and videos and you will soon be on your way to becoming an expert in neural interfaces. After about 2-7 days, the stimulation stops working altogether, so you can clip the wires and retire the cockroach to your breeder colony to spend the rest of its days eating your lettuce and making more cockroaches for you.
Watch the video below to see the RoboRoach in action!
- 1x Free iOS or Android 4.3+ application for remote control
- 1x Bluetooth Roboroach backpack control unit
- 1x 1632 RoboRoach Battery
- 3x Electrode Sets (to implant 3 Roaches)
Ethical Statement on the RoboRoach
Backyard Brains has developed ethical guidelines for all of our products. You can read more in our statement regarding our use of insects for experiments here.
Below are responses to criticisms raised about this specific project.
Criticism: This is simply a toy, not a scientific instrument.The name "The RoboRoach" and the tagline "Control a Living Insect from Your Smartphone" was chosen to be provocative and to capture the public's interest. A more accurate, though much drier title would have been: "The RoboRoach: Study the effect of frequency and pulse duration on activating sensory circuits in the cockroach locomotion system, and the subsequent adaptation." This is an accurate description, and these devices are currently used by scientists at research universities. However, such a description though would have alienated novices who have never had any exposure to neuroscience or neural interface experiments. We aim to bring neuroscience to people not necessarily in graduate school and thus chose an easily-understandable, provocative name.
Criticism: Modifying a living creature to make a toy is wrong.The RoboRoach circuit is not a toy. This new bluetooth version is a powerful, low-cost tool for studying neural circuits, allowing students to make discoveries. High school students in New York, for example, have discovered random stimulation causes much slower adaptation times. We have scientist and high school educator colleagues who are mentoring students in novel behavioral experiments using the RoboRoach circuit. Some highlights will be posted on our website soon.
Criticism: The RoboRoach is pseudoscience.Investigating neural circuits with electrical microstimulation has a rich history going back more than 150 years. Using this tool to study electrical excitability of neurons, adaptation times, and neural interfaces will help create the next generation of neural engineers, scientists, and physicians to tackle the very real problem of finding treatments to neural diseases. One in five people will be affected by a neural affliction at some point in their lives, and we have very few treatments to almost any neural affliction you can name (spinal cord injury, Alzheimer's, Schizophrenia, Depression, Multiple Sclerosis, etc). Our tools enable students to begin hands-on learning about neuroscience at a much earlier age (high school vs. grad school), giving future scientists and engineers a 5-10 year headstart on tackling such grand problems.
Criticism: This enables and encourages kids to harm animals.
The cockroach is anesthetized during the surgery to avoid the risk of the cockroach experiencing pain (though it is debatable whether they experience pain at all), and the cockroach adapts to the stimulation rapidly. The 55 Hz stimulation we use is the same frequency used in electrical stimulation to treat human diseases such as Parkinson's.
Previously, we sold analog versions of the RoboRoach. Teenagers who have bought this circuit have often done the experiments under the guidance of their parents as an educational experience. These students typically want to pursue careers in medicine or neuroscience. We will be highlighting such examples on our website soon.