Coming Soon To A Store Near You: Remote-control Cockroaches


Given a box full of cockroaches, the first thing most of us would do is try to locate the nearest source of fire. Lucky for the roaches, the team over at Backyard Brains look at things a bit differently than we do.

Their latest effort combines cockroaches and electronics to create a bio-electrical hybrid known as the RoboRoach. Using control circuitry donated from a HexBug inchworm and some 555 timers to create properly timed pulses, they have been able to control the gross movement of cockroaches. Stimulation is directly delivered to the antennae nerves of the cockroaches, enabling them to tell the roach which direction to turn and when.

Currently there are some ahem, bugs in the system, which they are working diligently to resolve. Only about 25% of the roaches they wire up can be controlled at present. Once that ratio improves however, they will be looking to offer RoboRoach as a beta product. If you are aiming to add a beetle air force to supplement your remote-controlled cockroach army, be sure to check this out.

Continue reading to see a video of the RoboRoach in action.


36 thoughts on “Coming Soon To A Store Near You: Remote-control Cockroaches

  1. What “ethical issues” ???

    These are friggin’ roaches for chrissake!

    To quote Davros


    And please no far fetched theories of
    stomping on one of these ugly mo fo’s
    somehow affecting the future time line.

  2. Wow, this is truly impressive, especially the comments. 10 out of 10 to judgedredd on the geeky nerdy dr who reference, same to me for not having to look it up.

    seriously, looks good because it looks to overcome the roaches natural tendencies to seek out dark corners, is there any improvement over time (training like question)?

  3. Cool.
    Never thought to see this done by a hacker.
    Some people did it before, but they had a whole lab.
    Ethical aspect of it:
    how long until you can control humans?
    But I assume it’s more like steering a horse.
    You just give it shocks when it goes in the wrong direction. And yes, you can do that with humans, too ;-)

  4. It’s tough for me to feel empathy for a roach. Hell, I am currently engaged in warfare against the squirrels that like to eat my house. But I certainly don’t wish some long drawn out suffering death for them. If it’s ok to control roaches, at what point is there a line? Mice? Cats? Monkeys? People? I think some ethical questions are:

    1. Is it ok to use animals for our entertainment? (circus, horse racing)

    2. Is it ok to harm animals for our entertainment (if this device does lead to injury or death)? (dog fighting, bull fighting)

    3. Is it ok to harm some animals but not others? (pulling the wings off a fly is ok, pulling the ears off a bunny is not)

  5. i noticed something in the video, it seems there is no means to encourage the roach to walk. for example you see the guy in the video tapping the roach to get it going, you merely have steering controls. aside from some miniaturization (seems the bug was struggling with the load) i think some kind of electromechanical goading device is required, perhaps a piezo or a small relay near the back end of the roach, which would stimulate the bug to start moving (i bet you could break by stimulating both antennae simultaneously). few more of these and you might be able to invade a protoss base.

  6. My god, they are just insects. They don’t ‘suffer’. This isn’t ‘torture’. What you and I perceive as pain is not perceived by them.

    I heard PETA is accepting new members.

  7. I’ve seen this done using LEDs in front of the cockroach’s head. Based on which LEDs are on, it triggers the cockroach’s tendencies to seek out dark corners. If you want it to run to the left, shine a light in its right “eye”. The cockroach would be mounted so it’d be running on a trackball. The movement of the trackball was sent to drive electric motors.

    Alternatively, if you want to do this without a big bulky motor system, shine the lights so the cockroach walks in a figure 8 shaped holding pattern.

  8. This is cool.

    I wouldn’t necessarily say insects don’t “suffer.” There have to be some negative thoughts running through the proto-brain when you rip three legs off a grasshopper and then release it back into the wild, but the thing is, I don’t CARE.

    Do any of the whiners here have any idea what most insecticides DO to insects? Typical functionality is melting the bug’s guts. We do it all the time. These roaches are way better off than the ones you spray with Raid.

    Seriously, “Fill the earth and subdue it.” Every living thing on the planet exists to serve humanity in some way. We shouldn’t be wasteful of lives or needlessly abusive, but if we don’t exploit the critters, that’s just as wasteful as deliberate extinction.

  9. @volfram
    as far as insecticide goes melting their gut is the fast way to go.a lot of insecticide are in fact neurotoxic to the bugs which means if they have something like a primitive pain then this is actualy quite humain by comparaison.

    im still wondering if its not possible to induce those signals in a non invasiv way. and yeah as mentioned before the control electronic could benefit from some shrinkage….

  10. Soon, it will provide access to facebook and play angry birds, so humans will line up around the block to have one ‘installed’.

    (Yes, it’s the next iphone, shhhh)

  11. Ethical issues here go way beyond the cockroach well being.
    If we teach people that this is okay, will they be more inclined to attempt similar things on other animals that people like?

    A lot of comments seem to show people think a cockroach feels no pain. Do we actually know how it’s brain works? Does that make it ok to experiment on? What if a human was born retarded and had no emotions, is it ethical to experiment on them?

    Pretty tough issues here guys.

    cockroaches, yuck.

  12. @pff
    Calling the thing an insect has a brain is sort of a stretch. It’s more of a clump of nervous cells. They don’t really feel pain as we know it because they lack “nociceptors”.
    It’s not particularly scientific, but the answer from is from a person who has lost the use of the nociceptors in their left leg. They can feel pressure and touch acutely but can’t feel pain.

    As for whether their lack of ability of pain makes this okay, that’s not an east to answer question.

    Back on a less serious note,
    Sweet, but I don’t look forward to attaching the controls to the ‘roach :P

  13. @Volfram, @Munch

    I probably *am* what you call a “Bible-thumper” (i.e. I follow the Bible’s teaching – what in Europe we call an ‘evangelical’, though I think that might have a different meaning in the US), and your third paragraph is pretty much nonsense.

    “Fill the earth and subdue it” does not mean ‘exploit everything’. It calls for us to care for the world, like a shepherd or gardener. It does mean that humans are more important than animals, so while neutering or putting down a dog is ok, doing the same to humans isn’t. It does mean eating meat is tasty. It doesn’t justify unsustainably raping the earth for its resources, or cruelty to animals.
    While it might be true that ‘everything exists to serve humans’ that would include roaches’ natural position in dealing with waste, and doesn’t mean they’re useless until you strap a ‘duino to it; flowers can be appreciated for their beauty, it doesn’t mean there’s some chemical to be extracted from each.

    That said, this is probably ok; if it’s just using LEDs to play with the roach’s desire for dark corners, it’s not harming the roach, and it’s better than stomping on it. But if the poor thing wants to sleep after running around, let it.

  14. I feel sympathy for every animal, yet I feel no sympathy for any human.

    In short: I’d rather see this thing on a human.

    We already have things to capture output of the human brain, it’s time for some input! :)

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