Mind-controlling Cockroaches

Producing micro robotics is not yet easy or cost-effective, but why do we need to when we can just control the minds of cockroaches? A team or researchers from North Carolina State University is calling this augmented Madagascar Hissing cockroach an Insect Biobot in their latest research paper (PDF). It’s not the first time the subject has come up. There have already been proofs in research and even more amateur endeavors. But the accuracy and control seen in the video after the break is beyond compare.

The roach is being controlled to perfectly follow a line on the floor. One of the things that makes this iteration work so well is that the microcontroller includes a new type of ADC-based feedback loop for the stimulation of the insect brain. This helps to ensure that the roach will not grow accustom to the stimulation and stop responding to it. Since this variety of insect can live for about two years, this breakthrough makes it into a reusable tool. We’re not sure what that tool will be used for, but perhaps the next plague of insects will be controlled by man, and not mother nature.

[Thanks Ferdinand via NBC News]

81 thoughts on “Mind-controlling Cockroaches

      1. This isn’t as inaccessible to poor hackers as one might think.. the tech has been around longer than the first transistor..

        Microelectronics and tapping neural networks can be as simple as an electrode and a RF filter bus..

        I think the reason you don’t see more stuff like this is the same reason you don’t see more discoveries in biology and physics, focused research..

    1. We have been quite adept at controlling human movement through the motor cortex since at least the 1960’s. I refer to the work of Dr. Jose Delgado. He performed a vast amount of experiments on electrical stimulation of the brain to bulls, cats, monkeys and humans. He did it through a device known as a “stimoceiver.”

      If you search for “bull & cat tests by Dr Delgado in the 1960s” you can find some youtube clips of his experiments.

      He published a book in 1969 detailing many of his experiments titled “Physical Control of the Mind.”

    1. Yeah, but we still don’t have small cars that turn into giant robots or mini-AI-tanks that talk with the voices of children. We don’t even have guys taking pills that turn them into uncontrollable self-contained armageddons!

  1. I am unsure what to say. I want one. But it would frighten me to have one. On one hand I would have no legitimate purpose for such a creature. On the other, connecting a bunch in network form could lead to some interesting choreographed cockroach dances. I wonder is this could be done with an atmega328p chip…

    1. If you actually read the research article before posting you would have known that:

      “The cockroach was left to recuperate before experimentation could begin. High ethical standards were followed during the treatment of the insects [22]-[23].”

      See references 22 to 23 to know more about their ethics / code of conduct.

      (I’m not affiliated with them nor I belong to their University).

      1. Ref 22 and 23 in the paper goes to decades old article on the topic of insect pain. They in no way describe what standards the current research followed. The fact that they write “High ethical standards were followed” is of no value if they can’t explain what standards they did follow.

      2. “High ethical standards” could be just as meaningful as hearing just about any retailer say “we’re taking those concerns very seriously.” I’m sure they are, but there’s no real working standard definition here.

      3. NCSU’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee takes their job(s) seriously. Then again, to be honest, there are things you can do to a roach that they won’t let you do to mouse, let alone a horse. So, yeah, they’ve got some appropriate level of oversight. The same department (different faculty) has also implanted electronics in humans, and that’s a whole different ball of regulatory goodness.

    2. actually as far as i know there are no real rules for experiments on insects. if you want to find out how much fire roaches can resist nobody will stop you. if you start setting fire to mice or other non insects the ethical commission will set fire to your ass.

      ok but where can i get some of these giant roaches?

    3. no, you are not weird for feeling bad for the roach. That is a normal reaction of anyone with a proper functioning sympathetic brain.

      This type of stuff is wrong and should be stopped immediately. If you want to control something, build it from scratch, don’t meddle with god’s work. Even if you have no religion, you should still know this is wrong.

  2. Stuff like this has been going on for years (minus the new controller)

    There are those who took cells from a rats brain and implanted it into a robot, this is all just the beginning..

    For those worried…. Wait until they try it on a human, we have already made brain interfaces, not its time to reverse the communication from the brain to computer…. to the computer into the brain.

      1. I recall they once used a rat brain as a CPU for a flight simulator. The tissue could control a left-right stick input in the flight simulator. After a short period of time it could pilot the plane perfectly, even through simulated hurricanes.

      2. @Kaj, no wai can rodents fly. I suppose next you’ll tell me they always have, just only at night, when you can’t see them, or some other BS. Well how the hell would they see?? You gonna make up some crap about bouncing squeaks off things???


  3. “Although, we have relatively higher success rate to obtain individual right and left turns, the success rate of completing the S-shaped lap in two-directions was around 10%”

    So not quite there yet…

  4. How would they debug the controller? It’s attached to a large bug. Isn’t the normal first step of debugging is to remove the most obvious bug and, thus invalidate the experiment to begin with?


    1. You can do it less invasively with a horse by using robotically-controlled blinders or light pulses near their eyes. Less friendly and ethical would be robotic spurs or rein controls.

      1. Those are definitely better ideas than my original idea of tasers and duct tape. But I guess the difference here would be there is no feedback loop to prevent the horse becoming indifferent to it’s robotic blinders.

    2. I should remove this post, but Classy troll (above) brings up a good point:

      “blond” – without the ‘e’ – is used to refer to males.

      I must say, after battling them for so long, the pedants-cum-editors in the Hackaday comments section finally managed an awesome burn.

  5. I am aware that this is but a small insect, wich some would call vermin.
    Still, this is absolutely wrong.
    Compared to human, its a simple creature and appears to be small.
    But wenn you look at the vast lifeless universe, it´s even more wonderful and how dare you!

  6. From a diagram showing when they implant the insect, it’s best done at the early pupae stage for best connections and stability. Seems like the insect lives it’s life not knowing there’s an implant, it’s always been there…

    I’m sure this same approach will be used with humans if/when it reaches that level…

  7. Mechanical Engineering magazine ran an article on researchers at a university (forget which one) doing the same experiment a few months. They said the goal was for hot spot/disaster first responders. Since the roaches can survive the radiation they can go in and take readings of the environment before sending humans in.

    1. So all they need is an instrumentation package that can survive radiation which is also light enough for the cockroach to carry.

      Is it me, or have HaD recruited a sicko to the editorial team? There have been a few ethically-challenged articles recently. Ethics should trump tech every time, and this example seems pretty indefensible.

  8. I’m surprised that no one has yet referenced project Acoustic Kitty!

    Declassified a few years back, the CIA was doing something similar with cats in the 60’s, obviously with larger gear. The original – but heavily redacted – documents are available online and worth a read for both their scientific and (dark) comedic value.

    Supposedly, the multi-million dollar project ended abruptly, during the first and only operation, when the cat was run over by a car outside of the Russian embassy.

  9. Funny how much passion this subject elicits. I did a survey on stem cell implantation on a message board dedicated to spinal cord injuries for a medical ethics class for nursing. Some of the people who would benefit from stem cells actually said that it was not to their beliefs and would not try it even if it could “reverse” their injury or “improve” their quality of life.
    These type of experiments is how we find out how to improve the quality of life for those who need it. Most people would be surprised at where the information came from that allows them to be treated in the medical community.

  10. What I find interesting is that many of the same people that protest loudly at the merest suggestion that a cockroach might be harmed don’t even bat an eyelash at the thought of a human child being mercilessly ripped apart, sucked out of it’s mother’s body, and disposed of like yesterday’s leftovers.

      1. Let’s also not forget the children in war-torn countries like Somalia, where the bodies are stacked as road blocks. But what could we do about that, if we helped there then we wouldn’t have an oil patrol in the Middle East.

      2. Actually, while (haploid) sperm cells aren’t definitively genetically human, (diploid) zygotes demonstrably are… All the DNA is there.
        Also, many things called a “fetus != child” are perfectly viable, if severely premature. Our technology for saving premature children improves every year.

  11. This is really creepy.
    Looks like something that Dr. Frankenstein would do in his spare time.

    On the other hand: 50 years ago nearly everybody was convinced that we would all die in an atomic holocaust, and still we are alive.

  12. Can’t wait for the aliens to land and start jamming metal probes into our skulls. That’ll teach us. My advice to these research ‘clowns’ is to grow up and start designing ultra-advanced robots which are entirely mechanical and stop behaving like little kids pulling the legs off spiders. Yes, I am an Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering double major. Our mandate is to be engineers, not conduct Nazi concentration-camp style science projects on defenseless creatures. Grow up people, and stop playing with yourselves.

    1. It is a cockroach. Y’know, those things we have amusing commercials about how they check in but they don’t check out? If your sensibilities are offended by cyborg insects of all things, I suggest you have a look at the nerve agents we use on our crops.

    2. And when these robots become self-aware, will it be unethical to experiment on them?

      Are insects self-aware?

      If a dead insect is powered externally, would these experiments be acceptable to you?

  13. I recall several year ago an article describing how Japanese scientists were studying ways to remotely control cockroaches and beetles fitted with a small camera and light to be used for searching for survivors trapped in collapsed building after an earthquake.
    I have also heard that roached are relatively unaffected by radiation, so they may also be useful for inspecting reactor containment vessels.

  14. Our art-group “18 Apples” (https://www.facebook.com/18apples) have
    done mind-controlled cockroach a year ago.
    Video from exhibition Medinovation Experiment#1/2014, Moscow:
    First experiments on fest GeekPicknic in Russia, SpB, 2014:

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