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article imageRoboRoach, the making of a radio-controlled cockroach

By Tim Sandle     Oct 12, 2013 in Odd News
Scientists have developed a kit called RoboRoach, a behavior-controlling cockroach backpack run by a Kickstarter-funded company.
RoboRoach is a project to control a living cockroach’s movements using a smartphone-generated buzz. The objective is animal experimentation, with the aim of studying movement. The kit was made available to anyone, so that they could fix a transistor to a cockroach and create a cyborg that could be controlled by radio waves.
The project appeared on Kickstarter in June 2013. The money raising scheme was successful and the project is set for a major launch in November. The project received 183 backers, who pledged $12, 339.
The company behind the project is Backyard Brains, founded by Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo, who are both trained neuroscientists and engineers.
Those who pledged received, according to the site: "All the benefits of Transistor Level and your very own RoboRoach Kit! (Cockroaches are not included, but we will tell you where you can order them from and how to care for them.)" Essentially, RoboRoach is a backpack that the roach wears that “communicates directly to the neurons via small electrical pulses.” By trimming the roach’s antenna to insert wires that could be attached to the Bluetooth backpack, people can control the roach through a smartphone.
The organizers say that there is a serious side to the project, teaching people about neural control of behavior and stimuli. According to the tech site TED, Greg Gage said "This is the exact same technology that’s used to treat Parkinson’s disease and make cochlear implants for deaf people. If we can get these tools into hands of kids, we can start the neurological revolution.”
However, not everyone is enthused. Michael Allen Fox, a professor of philosophy at Queen's University in Canada, told ScienceNOW that the devices simply "encourage thinking of complex living organisms as mere machines or tools." Whereas Jonathan Balcombe of the Humane Society University in Washington, DC thinks that the cockroaches are harmed from the study.
In response, Backyard Brains states on its website "Our experiments are not philosophically perfect and without controversy; however, we believe the benefits outweigh the cost due to the inaccessibility of neuroscience in our current age. "
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