The RoboRoach is a $99 kit consisting of electrodes, sensors, and a few batteries that allows anyone to drive their very own cockroach.
Attaching the electronic “backpack” to an unwitting arthropod is not for the squeamish. You must sand down the top of the critter’s head in order to attach a plug, “Exactly like the Matrix,” says Backyard Brains cofounder Greg Gage. Once installed, the system relays electrical impulses over a Bluetooth connection from your phone to the cockroach’s brain, via its antennae. The roach perceives each stimulus to its antennae as an obstacle, and changes direction. The same technique, applied to the cilia of the inner ear, is used in cochlear implants and during deep brain stimulation for treating a variety of disorders.
Greg Gage is an electrical engineer-turned-neuroscience student at the University of Michigan who, with his cofounder Tim Marzullo, started developing the RoboRoach three years ago. “The reason why we started is because I was annoyed that it was so late that I found out about a career in neuroscience. We have one in five people with a neurological disorder and we have no cures—we’re kind of in the dark ages. We want to get kids to understand that this is a career, and you can do so many amazing things.”
Watch: The RoboRoach, a remote-controlled cockroach