June 12, 2013
Kickstarter Project Funds Cyborg Cockroaches
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The RoboRoach is the world's first commercially available "Insect Cyborg" that involves neuroscience and engineering. Researchers from "Backyard Brains" created a device that allows you to install a pack to the antenna of a cockroach and control the insect using an app available on the iPhone.
"Our RoboRoach is an innovative marriage of behavioral neuroscience and neural engineering," the Backyard Brains researchers wrote on their Kickstarter page. "Cockroaches use the antennas on their head to navigate the world around them. When these antennas touch a wall, the cockroach turns away from the wall. The antenna of a cockroach contains neurons that are sensitive to touch and smell."
They said the neurons help to convey information back to the brain using electricity in the form of "spikes." A backpack installed on the back of the cockroach helps communicate directly to the neurons using small electrical pulses.
"When you send the command from your mobile phone, the backpack sends pulses to the antenna, which causes the neurons to fire, which causes the roach to think there is a wall on one side," the scientists wrote.
By utilizing this method, the researchers have devised a way for you to control the direction in which a cockroach is turning, all from your iPhone. This technology is the same used to treat Parkinson's disease and is also used in cochlear implants. They said the funding will help better their research into this technology, which could even spill over into other neurological fields as well as help the public's understanding of neurology.
"This product is not a toy, but a tool to learn about how our brains work. Using the RoboRoach, you will be able to discover a number of interesting things about nature," the researchers said.
Users will be able to experience in real-time how the brain responds to sensory stimuli. They will also see how the brain is able to learn and adapt, because after just a few minutes of use the cockroaches actually stop responding to the RoboRoach micro stimulation.
Backers who pledge $100 or more will be able to receive their very own RoboRoach kit, which does not actually include the cockroach itself. However, if someone wants to spend a little more cash, $150 gets them the kit as well as a dozen "well behaved and well trained" cockroaches.
Backyard Brains also is featuring an education kit for $500. With this pledge, a teacher could receive a bundle of RoboRoaches to help teach about neurotechnology in the classroom.
Researchers first described their work on remote controllable cockroaches during last year's annual conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society.