We have an ethical statement regarding our insect experiments at:
Below are responses to criticisms raised about this specific project.
Criticism: The name "The RoboRoach: Control a Living Insect from Your Smartphone" emphasizes this is not a scientific instrument but simply a toy.
Response: Given our emphasis on compelling demos that capture the public's interest, we chose a provocative title. A more accurate though much drier title would have been: "The RoboRoach: Study the effect of frequency and pulse duration on activating sensory circuits in the cockroach locomotion system, and the subsequent adaptation." Such a description though would have alienated novices who have never had any exposure to neuroscience or neural interface experiments. We aim to bring neuroscience to people not necessarily in graduate school and thus chose an easily understandable, provocative name.
Modifying a living creature to make a toy is wrong.
Response: The RoboRoach circuit is not a toy. This new bluetooth version is a powerful low-cost tool for studying neural circuits, allowing for students to make discoveries. High school students in New York, for example, have discovered random stimulation causes much slower adaptation times. We have scientist and high school educator colleagues who are mentoring students in novel behavioral experiments using the RoboRoach circuit. Some highlights will be posted on our website soon.
This is pseudoscience.
Response: Investigating neural circuits with electrical microstimulation has a rich history going back more than 150 years. Using this tool to study electrical excitability of neurons, adaptation times, and neural interfaces will help create the next generation of neural engineers, scientists, and physicians to tackle the very real problem of finding treatments to neural diseases. One in five people will be affected by a neural affliction at some point in their lives, and we have very little treatments to almost any neural affliction you can name (spinal cord injury, Alzheimer's, Schizophrenia, Depression, Multiple Sclerosis, etc…). Our tools enable students to begin hands-on learning about neuroscience at a much earlier age (high school vs. grad school), giving such future scientists and engineers a 5-10 year head start on tackling such grand problems.
This enables and encourages kids to harm animals.
The cockroach is anesthetized during the surgery to avoid the risk of the cockroach experiencing pain (though it is debatable whether they experience pain at all), and the cockroach adapts to the stimulation rapidly. The 55 Hz stimulation we use is the same frequency used in electrical stimulation to treat human diseases such as Parkinson’s.
We have sold analog versions of the RoboRoach for the last two years. Teenagers who have bought this circuit have often done the experiments under the guidance of their parents as an educational experience. These students typically want to pursue careers in medicine or neuroscience. We will be highlighting such examples on our website soon.