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Now you can control living cockroaches with a mobile app

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A company called Backyard Brains will sell you a DiY kit that allows you to hook a living cockroach up to your mobile phone and control its movements with electrical impulses. This will be the first consumer version of the technology behind things like the robo-rat. And not everyone is happy about it.


You can see a simpler version of the experiment above, in a presentation that Backyard Brains founder Greg Gage staged at TedEd. In this experiment, he connects an audio speaker to a cockroach's leg, causing it to flex to the beat. The kit he'll be sending out later this year, however, will allow kids to "drive" a cockroach around using a bluetooth device implanted in the insects' brains.

Gage says that the insects are not harmed during these experiments, and can live full lives after their cybernetic implants have been removed. But ethicists worry that kids who play with this kit will learn to devalue life and treat animals like machines.


At Science, Emily Underwood sums up the debate over the cockroach hacking project:

RoboRoach #12 and its brethren are billed as a do-it-yourself neuroscience experiment that allows students to create their own “cyborg” insects. The roach was the main feature of the TEDx talk by Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo, co-founders of an educational company called Backyard Brains. After a summer Kickstarter campaign raised enough money to let them hone their insect creation, the pair used the Detroit presentation to show it off and announce that starting in November, the company will, for $99, begin shipping live cockroaches across the nation, accompanied by a microelectronic hardware and surgical kits geared toward students as young as 10 years old.

That news, however, hasn’t been greeted warmly by everyone. Gage and Marzullo, both trained as neuroscientists and engineers, say that the purpose of the project is to spur a “neuro-revolution” by inspiring more kids to join the fields when they grow up, but some critics say the project is sending the wrong message. "They encourage amateurs to operate invasively on living organisms" and "encourage thinking of complex living organisms as mere machines or tools," says Michael Allen Fox, a professor of philosophy at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada.

Read more via Science