There’s a thin line between cruelty towards living things and experimentation with small scale cybernetics and neural control of behavior. This app and device combo might as well cross it.
Step 1: install the app on the iOS or Android device. Step 2: find an insect big enough to carry the neural control backpack. Step 3: perform a surgical intervention to attach the aforementioned backpack to the bug. Step 4: control the insect using the smartphone app. Congrats, you are now in control of a smaller creature, you tyrant! Was that simple? Well, there’s more to it.
This concept was envisioned by Backyard Brains, a DIY company made by Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo. Considering that the former holds a PhD in neural engineering and the latter one in neuroscience, I’d say that these guys know what they’re doing. Basically, they figured out that the insects (preferably the bigger variety) use their antennae to detect roadblocks, so the neural control backpack that they came up with addresses the neurons in the antennae.
The stimulation is supposed to be light, so no harm is caused to the poor, poor insects. As the neurons are sensitive to touch and smell, stimulating them should make the bugs think they’ve hit an obstacle. This results in them changing their directions, and with the help of the smartphone app, people can actually control the way the bugs head.
Of course, installing the backpack is supposed to be done under anesthesia, so that part could turn into a challenge. Fortunately, the developers of this project made sure that whoever buys the RoboRoach kit receives any and all the necessary instructions.
Also, the two developers claim that there are a lot of things to learn from such an experiment, but in my view it all resumes to controlled behavior and the effect of stimuli in the form of various frequencies. The bugs are said to adapt to a particular frequency after a while, so experimentation with this aspect might also be required.
RoboRoach is currently featured on Kickstarter, so if you feel the urge to control the ones weaker than you, you could always start with an insect. Visit the page of the project and back the manufacturer with at least $100 to get a RoboCoach kit.
Above is an instructional video from two years ago showing how to perform the surgical operation on the insect. I guess this stands to show that the two have been working on this project for quite a while.