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Control the movements of a live cockroach from your own mobile device! This is the world's first commercially available cyborg!
Control the movements of a live cockroach from your own mobile device! This is the world's first commercially available cyborg!
183 backers pledged $12,339 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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BBC - "the technique is the same as that used to treat Parkinson's disease and in cochlear implants"

Slashdot - "relax and enjoy learning"

Forbes - "Science! Democracy! RoboRoaches!"

FastCompany - "the RoboRoach has already led to a scientific discovery"

TED - "Backyard Brains is developing affordable tools that allow educators to teach electrophysiology"

CBS News - "While it might seem like all fun and games... the goal is to impact the advancement of basic neuroscience research."

Computerworld - "If you haven't seen a cockroach wearing a backpack ... this is a must-see video"

Mashable - "... the RoboRoach is not a toy, but rather a learning tool."

Discovery - "the cyborg roach idea as part of an effort to show students what real brain spiking activity looks like"

What is the RoboRoach?

The RoboRoach is the world's first commercially available cyborg! That's right... A real-life Insect Cyborg! Part cockroach and part machine. This is not a gimmick...  just good ol' fashion neuroscience, evolution and engineering.

How does it work?

Our Roboroach is an innovative marriage of behavioral neuroscience and neural engineering. Cockroaches use the antennas on their head to navigate the world around them. When these antennas touch a wall, the cockroach turns away from the wall. The antenna of a cockroach contains neurons that are sensitive to touch and smell. 

These neurons convey information back to the brain using electricity in the form of “spikes”. 

The backpack we invented communicates directly to the neurons via small electrical pulses. The cockroach undergoes a short surgery (under anesthesia) in which wires are placed inside the antenna. Once it recovers, a backpack is temporarily placed on its back.

 When you send the command from your mobile phone, the backpack sends pulses to the antenna, which causes the neurons to fire, which causes the roach to think there is a wall on one side. The result? The roach turns! Microstimulation is the same neurotechnology that is used to treat Parkinson’s Disease and is also used in Cochlear Implants.

What will I learn from the RoboRoach?

This product is not a toy, but a tool to learn about how our brains work. Using the RoboRoach, you will be able to discover a number of interesting things about nature:

Neural control of Behaviour: First and foremost you will see in real-time how the brain respondes to sensory stimuli.

Learning and Memory: After a few minutes the cockroach will stop responding to the RoboRaoch microstimulation. Why? The brain learns and adapts. That is what brains are designed to do. You can measure the time to adaptation for various stimulation frequencies.

Adaptation and Habituation: After placing the cockroach back in its homecage, how long does it take for him to respond again? Does he adapt to the stimuli more quickly? 

Stimuli Selection: What range of frequencies works for causing neurons to fire? With this tool, you will be able to select the range of stimulation to see what works best for your prep. Is it the same that is used by medical doctors stimulating human neurons? You will find out.

Effect of Randomness: For the first time ever... we will be adding a “random” mode to our stimulus patterns. We, as humans, can adapt easily to periodic noises (the hum a refrigerator can be ignored, for example). So perhaps the reason for adaptation is our stimulus is periodic. Now you can select random mode and see if the RoboRoach adapts as quickly.. or at all!

RoboRoach Specifications

Total Weight: <4.5g
Stimulation Frequencies: 1Hz-200Hz Stimulation Pulse Widths: 1ms-500ms (Max pulse width is dependent on the Frequency) Stimulation
Stimulation Time: 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: Motorola Droid Razr M (many others when BLE is officially released) 

What is a RoboRoach Kit?

We will package each RoboRoach kits with a reusable backpack and 3x recording electrodes (One per RoboRoach). We will also include a battery.  All you need is an insect, some time, and a mobile device that support Bluetooth LE. 

We need your help!

Why are we running this campaign?   We need to develop 2-3 more prototypes to get the scalable stimulation (using an SPI digital Potentiometer) and power management to work.  We also need the capital to order in large volume to get discounts on hardware that keeps our gear affordable.   

Backer Rewards

Here are what the T-Shirt and Mug rewards will look like for our backers. 

Who are you people?

Backyard Brains a small startup company of scientists and engineers, and we are changing the way the next generation of students are taught neuroscience and engineering. We believe in creating opportunities for students of all ages to engage in hands on, inquiry based learning. Adopting this framework, we’ve shown that our inventions and experiments improve student retention and learning outcomes. [See: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0030837] We have a successful track record of inventing and educating. 

Join Backyard Brains in the NeuroRevolution! Help us change the way neuroscience and engineering is taught.

Risks and challenges

As with any hardware project, there are risks associated with research development. This is our first invention to use a digital microcontroller, and BLE is an emerging technology with little device support outside of Apple.

We hope to mitigate these risks, in general by engaging the growing community of Open Hardware developers. We are also hosting all of our embedded and mobile code on GitHub, so we can draw on the help of its millions of registered users.

We have plans to develop for the Motorola Razr M. We will develop for the rest of the Android devices once support is announced, but we cannot be certain if that will for sure be in the next release (All signs are that it will be).

We are a successful and determined group of neuroscientists and engineers, with a proven track record of product development cycles. Our inventions have been featured in over 90 media outlets such as Wired, CNN, TED, Forbes and The New York Times.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    Impedance Level: We appreciate your support in helping us create the world's first commercially available cyborg. You will be listed on our website as a backer and be updated on progress of the RoboRoach development.

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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    Transistor Level: You will be listed on our website and updated on progress of the RoboRoach development. We will also send you a PDF copy of our first paper after it is published.

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    10 backers
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    Pledge $30 or more About $30

    Golgi Level: A signed print of Cristina's hand-drawn RoboRoach artwork. Perfect for framing to proudly hang in your garage lab, basement lab, or bedroom lab.

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    9 backers
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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    Capacitor Level: All the benefits of Transistor Level. Additionally, you will receive a limited edition RoboRoach T-Shirt. We will email you for your choice of color and size.

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    Pledge $75 or more About $75

    Cockroach Level: All the benefits of Capacitor Level. We will also include a limited edition RoboRoach Coffee Mug.

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    5 backers
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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    Roboroach Level: All the benefits of Transistor Level and your very own RoboRoach Kit! (Cockroaches are not included, but we will tell you where you can order them from and how to care for them.)

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    39 backers
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    Pledge $125 or more About $125

    Cyborg Level: Along with your very own RoboRoach you will receive a limited edition RoboRoach Backyard Brains Coffee Mug.

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    7 backers
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    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    Neuroprosthetic Level: All the benefits of the Cyborg Level. We will also include a dozen well behaved and well trained Cockroaches to go with your new Roboroach! (US only - our cockroaches don't like to travel outside US borders)

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    14 backers
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    Pledge $225 or more About $225

    Subthalamic Level: All the Swag (shirt, coffee mug), your very own RoboRoach, AND a SpikerBox with RoboRoach recording leads to listen to antenna neural spikes! We will also include extra batteries and electrodes. (Roaches not included -- international shipping friendly).

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    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    Thalamic Level: All the Swag (shirt, coffee mug) along with your very own roboroach, a spikerbox with RoboRoach recording leads, and a dozen adult living Cockroaches. Listen to antenna spikes! We will also include extra batteries and electrodes. (U.S. Only - Our roaches don't have passports)

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  11. Select this reward

    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    The Feynman Level: Teachers unite! A classroom kit of RoboRoaches bundled for educators that want to teach neurotechnology in the classroom. A classroom kit contains RoboRoaches for 6 students and a limited edition coffee mug for those long nights and early mornings.

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Funding period

- (30 days)