The kit that lets you control a cockroach’s brain

It can be hard to keep kids engaged in science class with yet another teacher-approved experiment. Heck, even dissecting frogs can get old.

What about a little live brain surgery to create your own mind-controlled cockroach? That’s the product the folks at neurological education and outreach company Backyard Brains are peddling with the RoboRoach. After years of taking apart remote control toys and affixing them to what many people would consider common house pests, RoboRoach has evolved into a $100 system that lets people control their very own bug via the Bluetooth on their smartphone.

After gaining recognition for their DIY biology efforts, the company is finally making a play to bring their first product to market with this Kickstarter campaign, which launced Monday. Using electrode technology, RoboRoach actually works with a cockroach’s brain patterns to send small signals to control its movements.

Normally, a cockroach uses its antennae to sense its orientation in a particular setting and navigate where it wants to go. The RoboRoach needs to be installed into a subject via a brief session of cockroach brain surgery, where kids can anesthetize the cockroach in an ice bath and install electrodes in the bug’s brain. The device sends light electronic pulses to make the cockroach perceive that it has hit an immovable barrier, forcing it to turn around and move in another direction.

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The 4.4 gram “backpack” on the cockroach communicates through Bluetooth transmissions from a cellphone. The RoboRoach app has hotkeys to keep the user in control of the cockroach’s direction as he scurries down the hall or across a classroom table.

But all of this control of a creepy crawly critter is in the name of educating children on neuroscience and neurotechnology in a practical and hands-on way, according to the founders. Through watching a little bug get his mind zapped, kids can learn aspects of behavioral stimulation, memory and other wild and crazy things our brains do to keep hold of environmental perception. Oh, and when it’s all said and done, don’t worry — once it’s over, your beady-eyed little cockroach minion can go back to hanging out in your home, no harm no foul.

With about a month left in its fundraising campaign, Backyard Brains is looking to raise $10,000 for two more prototypes before they release RoboRoach to the masses. Then, let the cockroach mind-control uprising begin!