A controversial new project that would allow you to control a cockroach’s movements using a smartphone app has been launched on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.
Backyard Brains, the company behind the RoboRoach, describe the project as “the world’s first commercially available cyborg,” and seek to use the kit to teach the basics of neuroscience.
The cockroach would have to undergo ‘surgery’ and be fitted with a backpack, rendering it “part cockroach and part machine,” after which its movements will be able to be controlled using a smartphone app.
Cockroaches use their antennas to detect objects around them — when they feel an obstacle on their right, they turn left, and vice versa.
Placing wires inside the antennas, you are able to replicate the sensation of touch using tiny electrical impulses, allowing you to direct the cockroach left or right, with signals being received using the electronics mounted on the RoboRoach’s back.
5. Dubious Ethics
The ethics of such a procedure are dubious, and there will undoubtedly be many who will see such experiments cruel.
“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),” say Backyard Brains on their campaign page. “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,” they add.
6. Educational Tool
They claim that RoboRoach is an educational tool and not a toy that sanctions bug torture, but more guidelines are needed according to Liat Clark of WIRED Magazine.
“Of course, there will be dedicated biohackers among them keen to get practical experience,” Clark writes, “but it’s also a serious potential upgrade for those kids that love to burn ants with a magnifying glass in summer — and an ethics-free lesson in mind control for the pursuit of entertainment.”
Backyard Brains are seeking $10,000 to fund the project, which could set a precedent in commercial cyborg technology.