Hack a Roach


Researchers are turning cockroaches into smartphone-controlled cyborgs for use in search-and rescue-operations. (NOVA PBS, see the video below!)

With $50, three hours, some electronics savvy, and an aversion to squeamishnessyou, too, can build your own RoboRoach army!

Use our resources to see other ways engineers are developing gadgets and gizmos to take over the world.

Discussion Ideas

  • According to the NOVA video, futuristic “bugbots” or “RoboRoaches” may be used to map areas destroyed by disasters, such as collapsed buildings. Tiny electronic devices equipped with cameras are already performing similar work. Why might emergency personnel prefer to use living “bugbots” instead of these robots?
  • The brainiacs behind RoboRoach hope to inspire a new generation to learn about neurotechnology—devices that help people understand the brain and how it works. How could RoboRoach technology help medical professionals understand such neurological disorders as Parkinson’s disease, mentioned in the video?
    • People suffering from some neurological diseases may experience impaired control over their movements. Some of these motor neuron disorders include strokes, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, epilepsy, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Electronic devices may assist people living with these diseases to better control their abilities, helping them live more independent lives.
  • Watch our video “Gadgets and Gizmos,” which spotlights how engineers are developing CritterCam and other weird-and-wonderful technology Nat Geo explorers take into the field. Compare these gadgets to the bugbot. How else could bugbots, CritterCams, or similar devices work to help us explore our world?
    • The possibilities are endless. The world is our oyster. Or roach.
      • Ocean Exploration? Few creatures can survive the cold, dark depths of the ocean. Equip some of these creatures with tiny data-collecting devices, and our understanding of deep-sea ecosystems could be radically altered. Sure, engineers would have to figure out how to make the devices work at the seafloor’s incredible pressure . . . but, hey, they successfully got the King of the World to the bottom of the Earth. (CameronCam?) Tube-worm Cam can’t be far behind. Engineers are already really close—forward to about 16:00 in “Gadgets and Gizmos” to hear engineers talk about deep-ocean “dropcams.”
      • Shipwrecks? Shrimp, krill, and other crustaceans (cockroach relatives) crawl in and out of delicate, decaying shipwrecks all the time. Using a modified bugbot (crustaceo-bot? krill-cam?), we might be able to safely peek inside Titanic’s boiler rooms without disturbing the site. Engineers are already close—forward to about 22:00 in “Gadgets and Gizmos” to hear engineers talk about how high-tech cameras are helping archaeologists map isolated and fragile sites.
      • Espionage and Eavesdropping? Roaches and other pests (flies, bees, mosquitoes) could be equipped with surveillance devices.
      • Security? Bugbots could help law-enforcement professionals protect property, borders, or other high-risk areas, such as airports.
      • Safety? Bugbots would be outstanding first-responders in a toxic leak or nuclear accident. Cockroaches can survive in much, much harsher environments than people. RoboRoaches could collect data to help engineers and emergency professionals assess the hazards of the particular situation.

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