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Our pals at Backyard Brains (makers of the terrific SpikerBox kit, which allows you to study the electrical impulses of insect neurons) are developing circuitry to control which direction a cockroach walks.

By modifying the HEXBug toy “Inchworm” circuitry to deliver pulses, we stimulated the antenna nerves of the discoid cockroach to “trick” the cockroach into turning upon command. Stay tuned! as we make the preparation easier, more reliable, and lighter!

Working RoboRoach Prototype

Mark Frauenfelder

Mark Frauenfelder is the editor-in-chief of Make magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog.


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Comments

  1. kentkb says:

    Ewww! the “Terminixer” Cybug.

  2. Robert Hart says:

    I know its a cockroach and I would step on one without thinking, but I find this still cruel and shameful.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Bwahahahahahahahahaha!!!!
      Cruel and shameful? Really? I think you should visit a chicken farm, or any slaughter house, then revise your positions on what is cruel and shameful.

  3. I’m not shocking the cockroach. I am stimulating locomotion neural circuits in the antenna with tiny electrical pulses. The cockroaches only have the backpacks on for a couple minutes. The cockroaches are not killed. They are allowed to retire and make cockroach babies and live out the remainder of the cockroach lives eating organic lettuce and carrots and playing in small wooden jungle gyms. I’m serious.

    What’s the point of all this? It’s to teach high school students about principles of microstimulation of neurons, the proper stimulation frequencies, the proper circuit design, basic neurophysiology, etc. This type of research is typically only done at large research universities, and we are bringing such neurotechnology into high schools to accelerate public understanding of neuroscience. Similar neural implants are used to treat Parkinson’s disease, depression, and deafness. The technology is very crude. With more students working on the problems of nervous system manipulation and treatment, progress will undoubtedly be made. 1 in 4 people will be affected by a nervous system affliction in their lifetimes, and the current treatments available if you have a problem with neuronal function are very poor. Ask anyone who has a relative with mental illness, dementia, or stroke. Are you satisfied with the state of neuroscience treatment today?

    1. the clarity with which you wrote this reply is great. my suggestion would be to include this in the form of video in your documentation. then people would perhaps see the whole process in a new light.

      1. could you also expand on the permanent part of the apparatus and how it is applied?
        seems you are removing its antennae for life….

  4. yeah, this is disturbing and gross…

  5. Steven Clark says:

    As I remember it (from a digest in Science News when I was in middle school I think) the motor neurons outside the brain of a cockroach are basically capable of walking on their own. They shouldn’t even have to cause pain, or maybe even touch the brain, if they do this right. As creepy as it sounds I don’t think this is that bad. Doesn’t mean the PTA’s gonna let him get away with it for any length of time, rationality and groups of parents seldom mix I hear.

  6. Thebes says:

    Modifying animals like this creeps me out and makes me understand, to some degree, the mad rantings of Ted Kaczynski. It makes me think of future dystopias where armies of government bugs track down the resistance for the robot drones to destroy.

  7. sorry but this is really disturbing and cruel. I dont normally comment here but thought I should say what I think. Any exploitation of animals for entertainment is bad even if you arent actually shocking it.

    ‘Make’ I am surprised at you

  8. I was watching The Fifth Element and the scene with the cockroach being used as a “remote controlled listening device” was on….. then i looked over, and saw this article.

    creepy. (if no one believes me… check out Titan TV… Dish Network… Encore West (341)… what are the chances

  9. Parker Miner says:

    definitely out of my comfort zone at first sight… but then I remember science projects when i was a kid where students would kill a frog to connect wires to their muscles and make them twitch. In the name of science and learning I understand and am more than happy to support experimentation on these bugs. –If this were “recreational” to race cockroaches through a maze I might have a problem with it.–

  10. If this work is being used to teach high school students, then these folks need to have their collective hands shaken- not slapped for working on cockroaches in such a way. For starters, they’re cockroaches. More importantly, such interesting teaching research might be part of the solution that kickstarts students to pursue careers in science. Science education in this country is lucky if it can even claim to be engaging, much less inspiring. I say this rocks!

  11. Dan Pease says:

    awesome job would be really cool to see how well fine tuned you could do this and if you could get the backpacks to be lighter, maybe get a group of cockroaches working in sync, or even carrying a very small camera that you can view through wifi…… imagine the lives that could save given an urban disaster like an earthquake a RC cockroach with a camera and mic and mini speaker on it to find and communicate to trapped people…. to the people saying this is abusive get your head out of the sand and think of all the good this tech could do the ability to create something as flawless as a cockroach’s movement system is still beyond us in robotics this is essentially a stepping stone or a skip ahead. enjoy the lettuce roaches :)

  12. This is very disturbing. What will the next step be once the experimenter moves on to bigger things? There are no ethics to control what the public does, and given that there are some twisted people out there we should not give them the opportunity to do this. I also believe that the size and observed intelligence of an animal should not make it a better candidate for animal testing.

    I think the question we should ask ourselves is whether this really teaches kids anything? and what is the point if the discovered knowledge is not be formally recorded? I’m sure there are other ways to inspire people.

  13. [...] Remote-controlled Cockroach This one doesn’t harm the cockroaches, but steers them by exciting their antennae.  There is also a more detailed 3-page writeup in the latest Make magazine (Volume 31), but they don’t seem to have that one available in their “digital edition” yet (which would be hidden behind a paywall in any case).  Basically, they took the electronics out of the remote-controlled Hexbug Inchworm, and added a TI 551 chip (a low-power version of the classic 555 timer chip) to produce 55 Hz pulses from the DC outputs that went to the Hexbug’s motors.  By AC-coupling  the 55Hz signals via silver wires to the inside of the cockroach antennas, they were able to control the movements of the cockroach somewhat. [...]

  14. [...] heroes anytime soon. While everything proceeds pretty smoothly in the video above—more so than in some early robo-cockroach experiments—the researchers’ paper itself suggests that they still have some kinks to work out. Their [...]

  15. nemoskull says:

    i love to hear people debate the ethics of controlling a live animal, but will happily hire a company to commit mass genocide when the little buggers get in your house. then they go and eat dead processsed, prepackaged animals that have been fed steroids to make better hambugers.
    seriously, it a bug.

  16. […] et ainsi créer les premiers cyborgs-animaux. Les premières victimes des essais sont les cafards (déjà victimes d’autres tests du même genre), ceux-ci subissent des implantations dans leur corps pour que les chercheurs puissent les […]

  17. […] about and its use in helping Parkinson’s patients control their tremors. Check out some of our other coverage of […]

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