Instinct typically leads us to squash any cockroach that crosses our paths, but a group of scientists are making creative use of the creepy crawlies -- by turning them into cyborgs.
A new Kickstarter campaign asks for $10,000 in donations for a project called RoboRoach, which offers cell phone users the chance to "control the movements of a live cockroach from [their] own mobile device."
The project comes from Backyard Brains, a collective of scientists and engineers who see their work with roaches as a way to teach and experiment with neuroscience. They call RoboRoach "the world's first commercially available cyborg."
According to the Kickstarter page, RoboRoach technology manipulates roaches' neurological impulses.
Cockroaches navigate their surroundings using their antennae, which are equipped with neurons that tell cockroaches to turn around when the antennae touch a wall. For the project, scientists outfit roaches with a small "backpack" through a short surgery complete with anesthesia. The result?
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!
But why would anyone want a remote-controlled roach? The scientists say working with the neurological responses and experimenting with different frequencies can yield valuable lessons about neurological stimuli and behavior adaptation.
While the group says the roaches are anesthetized during surgery, members acknowledge that some may still take issue with their work with invertebrates.
PETA is among the critics. The animal rights group finds the RoboRoach technology "contrary to our growing knowledge of the entire animal kingdom" as well as "retrogressive and morally dubious," according to a statement from Wendy Wegner, PETA's senior media officer.
The statement continues:
Recent studies show that cockroaches cooperate with each other, that ants know better than humans where to position exits in case of emergencies, and that wasps communicate by using hormones to alert the colony to the presence of an intruder—yet this concept treats these fascinating beings as if they were Tinkertoys or LEGOs, when we have technology to harness and should leave other living beings alone.
Backyard Brains acknowledges those types of concerns but feels the scientific benefits of its work are worthwhile.
"Our experiments are not philosophically perfect and without controversy; however, we believe the benefits outweigh the cost due to the inaccessibility of neuroscience in our current age," the group writes on its website.
RoboRoach is just one of the many oddball projects seeking funding on Kickstarter. Some of the stranger ventures are collected on the website Freakstarter, which lists peculiar projects such as a flask designed as an anatomical copy of a human heart and a 40-foot "art car" called the "Big-Ass Amazingly Awesome Homosexual Sheep."
Since the RoboRoach Kickstarter page opened for donations on June 10, the organizers have collected more than $6,500 from more than 100 donors. The campaign lasts until July 10.