RoboRoaches: The New Bionic Bugs

BW bionic bug
07/10/13
In the Magazine

THIS WEEK’S mad-scientist award for bizarre technology goes to Greg Gage and his partners at a little company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, called Backyard Brains. Their product is a tiny electronic backpack that’s fitted onto a cockroach and hooked up to its antennae so you can control its movements with a smartphone app. Such weirdness certainly captures the imagination. The modest $10,000 Kickstarter financing for the project was fully subscribed long before the deadline, despite some ethical questions about animal cruelty raised by some contributors. And one might speculate, given recent headlines, that there’s a large potential market for these RoboRoaches at government agencies like the NSA: they could literally bug your home and office. But Gage, a neuroscientist, says the mini-cyborgs actually are meant to be educational and, in a way, inspirational. They’re to be used to teach kids fundamentals of modern neurological research. The principles involved, he says, are akin to deep brain stimulation in patients with Parkinson’s and to cochlear implants that help the deaf to hear. “If we can allow this technology to get into the hands of younger people,” proclaims the Kickstarter promo video, “we can begin the neuro-revolution!”

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