Do-it-yourself cyborgs

Written December, 2013


The company Backyard Brains will release a kit by the end of 2013 called “Robo Roach,” that allows users to “briefly wirelessly control the left/right movement of a cockroach by microstimulation of the antenna nerves.” Claiming that their Robo Roach is “a great way to learn about neural microstimulation, learning, and electronics,” buyers are encouraged to anesthetize and perform surgery on an adult cockroach so electrodes can be glued on to, and grounding wire inserted into, the thorax. The roach’s antennae are then clipped and fitted with electrodes using strong glue. After testing and demonstration of the remote controlled cockroach, the company claims the insect can be “retired,” to spend the rest of its life “eating organic lettuce, playing in toilet paper rolls and work scraps, and raising a family.” The kit is currently sold for $99, is backed by the National Institute of Mental Health, and is marketed as an educational product.
It’s legal to kill a cockroach – so at what point does treatment become unethical? Does turning animals into cyborgs treat animals as “toys” or give us a new appreciation for their complexity (as Backyard Brains claims)?


The Robo Roach:


The RoboRoach (Backyard Brains)

Want To Control Cyborg Cockroaches? There’s An App For That (LA Times)

The DIY Cyborg (Vice)

TEDGlobal Welcomes Robot Cockroaches (BBC News)

TED Talk: The Cockroach Beatbox (TED)

Cyborg Cockroaches: They’re Alive! (PBS Newshour)

The utility of DIY cyborg roaches:


Remote-Controlled Roaches to the Rescue? (IEEE Spectrum)

Cyborg Cockroaches May Be Future Emergency Responders (Live Science)

Controlling the Minds of Cockroaches Using Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect (Slate FutureTense)

Could Cyborg Cockroaches Save Your Life? (National Geographic)

Ethical issues:


iPhone-Controlled Cyborg Cockroaches Are Stirring Up An Ethics Debate (Business Insider)

I, Cockroach (Aeon Magazine)

Is Making Cyborg Cockroaches Immoral? (ZME Science)

Cyborg Cockroaches and the Ethics of Animal Biotech (Vision Blog)

DIY Remote-Controlled Cockroach Kits Definitely Not Ethical, says PETA (Salon)

All photos can be found at