Backyard Brains: Controlling Cockroaches, Fruit Flys, And People

[Greg Gage] and some of the other crew at Backyard Brains have done a TED talk, had a few successful Kickstarters, and most surprisingly given that pedigree, are actually doing something interesting, fun, and educational. They’re bringing neuroscience to everyone with a series of projects and kits that mutilate cockroaches and send PETA into a tizzy.

[Greg] demonstrated some of his highly modified cockroaches by putting a small Bluetooth backpack on one. The roach had previously been ‘prepared’ by attaching small electrodes to each of its two front antennas. The backpack sends a small electrical signal to the antennae every time I swiped the screen of an iPhone. The roach thinks it’s hitting a wall and turns in the direction I’m swiping, turning it into a roboroach. We seen something like this before but it never gets old.

Far from being your one stop shop for cockroach torture devices, Backyard Brains also has a fairly impressive lab in the basement of their building filled with grad students and genetically modified organisms. [Cort Thompson] is working with fruit flies genetically modified so a neuron will activate when they’re exposed to a specific pulse of light. It’s called optogenetics, and [Cort] has a few of these guys who have an ‘I’m tasting something sweet’ neuron activated when exposed to a pulse of red light.

Of course controlling cockroaches is one thing, and genetically engineering fruit flies is a little more impressive. How about controlling other people? After being hooked up to an EMG box to turn muscle actuation in my arm into static on a speaker, [Greg] asked for a volunteer. [Jason Kridner], the guy behind the BeagleBone, was tagging along with us, and stepped up to have two electrodes attached to his ulnar nerve. With a little bit of circuitry that is available in the Backyard Brains store, I was able to control [Jason]‘s wrist with my mind. Extraordinarily cool stuff.

There was far too much awesome stuff at Backyard Brains for a video of reasonable length. Not shown includes projects with scorpions, and an improved version of the roboroach that gives a roach a little bit of encouragement to move forward. We’ll put up a ‘cutting room floor’ video of that a bit later.

16 thoughts on “Backyard Brains: Controlling Cockroaches, Fruit Flys, And People

  1. Hurting animals to show something everyone already knows works. Nice.
    I met one of the guys from Backyard Brains a while ago and was not impressed by their arduino shield that was supposed to measure musscle movement. There was way too much noise.

  2. It is impressive, but I feel sorry for the bug.

    Anyway, care with the animals rights. They can sue anyone that do this kind of thing. Or at least try it.

    Care guys.

  3. What is meant by this comment, Ekranoplane?
    “Too soon, Hackaday. Really you guys are so insensitive.”
    I’m not arguing, I’m honestly just really confused as to what you mean

      1. Indeed it is. How dare they post a story about flies when flies might trigger people to think of planes, especially ones that went down recently.

  4. If any of you are in Ann Arbor, look up a place called All Hands Active. They share a space and its pretty cool to go watch them work.

  5. you feel bad for the bug? the same bug you’d spray with neurotoxin, or smash if it were in your serial ( ;) ) cabinet?

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