James Bond’s next superbug? The remote control cockroach that could be the spy of the future
Scroll down for video Michigan-based Backyard Brains has officially launched its DIY kits that let people connect living cockroaches to a phone, pictured, and control them using electrical impulses. The product was successfully financed through a Kickstarter campaign and the first kits are due to reach buyers by November THE ROBOROACH SPECIFICATIONS StimulationTime: 5ms to 1000s Battery: 16mm 1632 Coin Cell Battery Use Time: 12 hours per battery Communication Protocol: Bluetooth Low Energy Compatible Supported iOS Devices:iPhone 4s+, iPod 5th generation+, iPad mini, iPad 4th Generation+ Supported Android Devices:MotorolaDroid Razr M (more coming soon) Its movements are controlled by electrodes that connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth. To attach the backpack, users dip the bug into ice water to ‘anaesthetise’ it. From the Sony Walkman to the humble zip: The past centurys top 100 inventions that changed our lives (yet most of us take for granted) A patch of shell on its head is sanded and electrodes are stuck to it using superglue. The groundwire is then inserted into the insects thorax and the antennae is trimmed so silver electrodes can be placed into them. Its makers claim it would make a great classroom aide to teach children about how the brain works. Although they also insist the cockroaches are treated humanely, they risk a backlash from animal rights activists who say it is cruel. The backpack was announced in 2011 before successfully achieving funding through a Kickstarter campaign this summer. Roboroach in action: The app that lets you control a COCKROACH The cockroach’s movements are controlled by electrodes that connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth. To attach the backpack, users dip the bug into ice water to ‘anaesthetise’ it. Electrodes are stuck to it using superglue and groundwire is inserted into the insect’s thorax A DIY kit starts at $99 (61) and Backyard Brains said it will begin shipping them to arrive in November. The previous product from the technology company let students tear the legs off a cockroach to monitor the leg neurotransmissions. A DIY kit starts at $99 (61) for the backpack, but the Android and iOS apps are free. Backyard Brains said it will begin shipping kits to arrive in November The Roboroach is made from a children’s toy called the Hexbug, which is a plastic bug that moves around the floor. Engineers from Backyard Brains added chips that give out electric pulses and a harness to secure it to the cockroachs back. Once in place it takes advantage of the fact that cockroaches turn whenever one of their antenna hits a wall. By sending an electronic pulse from the app through the antenna it is possible to fool them into thinking they need to go left or right. Backyard Brains co-founder Greg Gage said he hoped the device would be used in classrooms to inspire the next generation of neuroscientists.
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The team have been able to accurately steer it to follow complex shapes on the ground. Now they hope to fit it with video cameras and other sensors, so it can crawl into buildings undetected, and even search earthquakes for survivors. Scroll down for video The remote control cockroach: The researchers were able to use this tiny circuit board to remotely operate the animal, sending it along a curved line on the floor with perfect accuracy. They now hope to use it to search doe earthquake victims. ‘Our aim was to determine whether we could create a wireless biological interface with cockroaches, which are robust and able to infiltrate small spaces,’ says Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper on the work. ‘Ultimately, we think this will allow us to create a mobile web of smart sensors that uses cockroaches to collect and transmit information, such as finding survivors in a building thats been destroyed by an earthquake. The team were able to make the coackroaches walk along a blue line drawn on the floor. They now hope to investigate adding sensors and even a camera to it ‘Building small-scale robots that can perform in such uncertain, dynamic conditions is enormously difficult,’ Bozkurt says. ‘We decided to use biobotic cockroaches in place of robots, as designing robots at that scale is very challenging and cockroaches are experts at performing in such a hostile environment.’ The researchers were able to precisely steer the roaches along a curved line. The new technique developed by Bozkurts team works by embedding a low-cost, light-weight, commercially-available chip with a wireless receiver and transmitter onto each Madagascar hissing cockroach. Weighing 0.7 grams, the cockroach backpack also contains a microcontroller that monitors the interface between the implanted electrodes and the tissue to avoid potential neural damage. The microcontroller is wired to the roachs antennae and cerci. The cerci are sensory organs on the roachs abdomen, which are normally used to detect movement in the air that could indicate a predator is approaching causing the roach to scurry away. Stop stamping on them: The hated cockroach is essential to our planet for converting nitrogen into fertiliser But the researchers use the wires attached to the cerci to spur the roach into motion. The roach thinks something is sneaking up behind it and moves forward. The wires attached to the antennae serve as electronic reins, injecting small charges into the roachs neural tissue. The charges trick the roach into thinking that the antennae are in contact with a physical barrier, which effectively steers them in the opposite direction. In a recent experiment, the researchers were able to use the microcontroller to precisely steer the roaches along a line that curves in different directions.
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