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RoboRoach: How to control a cockroach with your smartphone

'The world's first commercially available cyborg,' the RoboRoach is a cockroach fitted with a backpack that lets smartphone users control its movements.

RoboRoach Gen4
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This is a roach with a higher calling: You.

Billed as the “world's first commercially available cyborg,” the RoboRoach debuted Monday on a Kickstarter page looking to raise $10,000 for the project by next month.

The project of Backyard Brains, a startup company of scientists and engineers headed by neuroscientists Greg Gage, the RoboRoach allows smartphone users to control a cockroach’s movements with a downloadable app. Yes, there’s an app for that.

Cockroaches use antennas packed with neurons to navigate their world, the campaign page explains. For example, when those antennas touch a wall, the neurons fire to the brain and instruct the roach to turn left or right, rather than pressing on in a hopeless show of resistance to human engineering.

This latest bit of human technology involves a “short surgery,” under anesthesia, where the roach’s wires are filled with wires that connect to a teeny backpack fixed to its back, the page says. It’s new owner can then use their smartphone to command that backpack to send pulses to the wires, which tell the cockroach that it has come up against a wall. And so, the roach turns, at your command.

"Controlling the RoboRoach is easy: Simply slide your finger across the screen, and the roach will move in that direction," according to a video on the page, in which the creators send vibrations of different durations and frequencies to a wired-up cockroach toddling across a table.

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