The ‘RoboRoach’ is the latest creation from a neuroscience startup company called Backyard Brains. The company is attempting to bring Electrophysiology into schools via the creation of cheap, affordable tools.
The RoboRoach is a remote control system that enables left and right turning in running cockroaches. It works by delivering pulses, which simulates the antenna nerves in a cockroach, to trick it into turning upon command.
The prototype, which resembles a miniaturised backpack, was created by modifying the HEXBug; a small electronic gizmo for kids.
“By taking the small, lightweight control circuitry out of the Hexbug and modifying it with low-power 555 timer chips to create biphasic pulses, we can deliver 55 Hz stimulation to the antennae nerves of large discoid and fuscia cockroaches,” the creators explain.
The HexBUG toy's inner control circuitry forms the core of the RoboRoach protoype.
Backyard Brains hopes that the RoboRoach will allow students to investigate “the mysteries of neurons and action potentials” on a modest budget. It will assist in teaching about principles of microstimulation of neurons, the proper stimulation frequencies, the proper circuit design and basic neurophysiology.
But what do the cockroaches make of all this? According to the company website, the insects are treated humanely and only have the backpacks on for a couple of minutes at a time. “[The cockroaches] are allowed to retire and make cockroach babies and live out the remainder of their cockroach lives eating organic lettuce and carrots and playing in small wooden jungle gyms,” the website explains. Bless.
Here's a video of the prototype in action:
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