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Cyborg Cockroaches For Kids? Get The Christmas List Ready

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View of giant cockroaches (Blaberus giganteus) on display during an exibition at the Explora Park in Medellin, Antioquia department, Colombia on February 5, 2013. This species, usually found in tropical forests of South America, prefer high humidity and low light habitats, live about 20 months and are omnivorous.    (credit: RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)

View of giant cockroaches (Blaberus giganteus) on display during an exibition at the Explora Park in Medellin, Antioquia department, Colombia on February 5, 2013. This species, usually found in tropical forests of South America, prefer high humidity and low light habitats, live about 20 months and are omnivorous. (credit: RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)

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DETROIT (WWJ) – Cockroaches aren’t on the typical child’s Christmas list, but an Ann Arbor company is hoping to change that with a cyborg device meant to turn the creepy crawlers into scientific entertainment they can control with a smartphone.

Backyard Brains has developed a Kickstarter project, the RoboRoach, that allows one to cut live cockroaches and implant electrodes to control the insects’ movements. One hundred and eighty three people have pledged $12,339 — exceeding the $10,000 goal to fund the project.

It’s like a remote-controlled car in the body of a live bug, the game “Operation” writ large. But the creators want it to be taken seriously, with Greg Gage saying his product advances the study of neural circuits, allowing students to make scientific discoveries.

“Twenty percent of the world will have a neurological disorder with no known cure and so what we are trying to do is get kids interested in neuro-science at an early age and and we can actually capture those kids and turn them into neuro-scientists and actually help us cure these diseases,” said Gage.

PETA doesn’t see it like that. PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is crying fowl and believes the RoboRoach kit should be declared illegal. PETA counsel Jerrod Goodman claims it promotes the practice of veterinary medicine without a license by altering an animal from its normal condition.

“This cruel and inhumane product instructs children to, without anesthesia, send down various parts of a living cockroach’s body,” Goodman said in a statement Tuesday. “They stab a syringe through the animal, force electrodes into the animal, and superglue apparatuses to the inside and the outside of the cockroach’s body.”

According to Backyard Brain’s website, The RoboRoach circuit is not a toy, but a tool for studying neural circuits and allows for students to make discoveries about electrical micro-stimulation.

“Cockroaches are intelligent animals, they have learning and memory capacities,” Goodman said. “They have sophisticated social lives with each other and they can feel pain. It’s not okay to pull the wings off of flies and it’s not okay to teach children to torture and mutilate cockroaches. You can hate and dislike someone all you like, but it doesn’t make it okay to torture them.”

According to Backyard Brain’s website, the cockroaches are anesthetized and the purpose of their product is to enable better retention of neuroscience concepts compared to traditional book based teachings.

“All that this cruel product stands to teach children is that it’s acceptable to cut open, bully, and exert control over other beings,” said PETA’s Goodman.  “Cutting off the antennas and super gluing electrodes into them is not going to teach children about neuroscience.”

Perhaps anticipating a multitude of challenges, the Backyard Brains team has compiled a lengthy Ethics Statement on its website which can be found here.

Part of the statement addresses the perception that the product is marketed toward children as a toy.

“The name RoboRoach and the tagline ‘Control a Living Insect from Your Smartphone’ was chosen to be provocative and to capture the public’s interest,” the statement explained. “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.”

The RoboRoach description on the Backyard Brains’ website starts with the line, “Have you ever wanted to walk down the hall of your school or department with your own remote controlled cockroach? … We are excited to announce the world’s first commercially available cyborg!”

The product is available for pre-order on the company’s website for $99.99.

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