VIDEO: Teaching STEM with the Cyborg Cockroach Experiment
Staff posted on December 11, 2015 |
Technology to treat Parkinson’s disease allows for remote controlled cockroaches.

Cyborg cockroaches operated by remote control – I can’t think of anything cooler to use to teach STEM.

ENGINEERING.com recently had the chance to view a demonstration of the RoboRoach – an average cockroach implanted with a tiny PCB on its back.

Aspiring mad scientists and curious engineers have the opportunity to build the setup themselves, or order it pre-built. The implant is also surgically installed by the user.

The cockroach is controlled by an app on the user’s phone, connected through a Bluetooth low-energy wireless receiver/transmitter.

Signals received by the transmitter are fired through the antennae of the cockroach to stimulate neurons. The brain of the cockroach then responds as if it made contact with a wall. This process can be applied to the left or right antennae to allow the user to direct the direct the cockroach in the opposite direction – stimulating the left antennae to move right.

Groups like PETA have protested against things like this in the past, but the technology used with the RoboRoach goes beyond entertaining experimentation.

This kind of technology is currently being used in treatments for Parkinson’s disease with deep brain stimulation.

“We use the same parameters,” said Dr. Greg Gage, co-founder of Backyard Brains and developer of the RoboRoach. “We allow students to explore that parameter space. Inside the app, you set the stimulation, frequency, pulse width – things you would need done for cochlear implants if you’re deaf. Electrodes would be tuned to make sure the neurons fire properly. The students would be doing the exact same thing themselves, just using a cockroach.”

Cockroaches used for this experiment are left with the headcap used in the experiments in place of their antennae.

These retired roaches are kept alive and looked after in Backyard Brains’ “Shady Acres” terrarium. “That’s the retirement community for cockroaches that have given up their antennae for science. They can do whatever they want to do, make new cockroaches and eat good lettuce.”

For a look at how the implant surgery is performed, closer looks at the technology behind the device and other information, visit backyardbrains.com.

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