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RoboRoach surgery kit comes to Kickstarter: a remote control for real cockroaches

Jamie Rigg, @jmerigg
June 10, 2013
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What DARPA does with animal test subjects behind closed doors is one thing, but here we have something else entirely: mad-scientist kits that allow anyone at home to control the movement of a real-life cockroach. Backyard Brains, the crew behind Twitter Roach, have been selling RoboRoach sets for creating cyborg insects for some time. But today, after getting as far as they can on their own, they're seeking Kickstarter funding to improve their design and develop "educational materials" to go with it. The project will go live in the next 30 minutes or so, and pledges of $100 or more will get you a surgery kit consisting of a PCB "backpack," battery and three sets of electrodes. The PCB pairs with mobile devices via the Bluetooth LE profile and a companion app delivers commands to the 'roach, allowing you to steer the creature by swiping across your screen. Cough up $150 or more and they'll send you a dozen 'roaches to get you started.

The electrodes we mention need to be implanted into the cockroach's antennae so directional triggers can be sent to the nerves within -- effectively fooling the creature into thinking it's hit an obstacle and needs to change course. This is where it starts to get uncomfortable. Backyard Brains are touting the RoboRoach as an educational tool, specifically stating that "this product is not a toy." Something that's glossed over on the Kickstarter page, however, is the allegedly painless surgery step: how you attach the electrodes to the insect. People can make their own minds up regarding the ethics of the campaign, and can start by heading to the Kickstarter source link once it goes live at 9am ET. We've also embedded an old tutorial video below we found on the company's site, which demonstrates the surgery process. Be warned: there's antenna-clipping and other mutilations involved, which make our skin crawl even more than the thought of handling the cockroaches in the first place.

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