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Remote Control Cyborg Roaches to Invade Classrooms

It's a cinch to add some robotics and neurobiology to science classrooms otherwise dulled by masses on springs; all you need is a little cockroach hacking kit

1 min read
Remote Control Cyborg Roaches to Invade Classrooms

Getting kids involved in, and invested in, robotics and cybernetics isn't an easy task. That very first step, helping them to realize that hey wow they can actually do it, is a tough one. Backyard Brains has come up with what looks to be a fun (and more importantly cheap) way of bringing robotics, cybernetics, and neurobiology into the classroom, as long as you're not creeped out by bugs.

The Backyard Brains Cockroach Cerebral Enslavement Kit (I made that name up) takes the guts out of a Hexbug (cost: $10), adds a little chip that can generate biophasic pulses, and wires it up to the antennas of a large cockroach. By mimicking the signals that the roach's brain receives when one of its antennas runs into something, the insect can be steered left and right:

For those of you concerned about the well-being of the cockroaches (I know I was!), Backyard Brains has this to say:

The cockroaches only have the backpacks on for a couple minutes. The cockroaches are not killed. They are allowed to retire and make cockroach babies and live out the remainder of their cockroach lives eating organic lettuce and carrots and playing in small wooden jungle gyms.

Phew, I feel better now.

After a little more tweaking (they only have a 25% success rate getting the roaches to respond to the backpack so far), Backyard Brains hopes to package all this into an affordable kit that can be used to provide students with hands-on demos and lessons in robotics and neurobiology. Hopefully, lesson two will involve doing the same type of thing to flying insects, to make fully steerable roboinsectoplanes. You know, like these.

[ Backyard Brains ] via [ AOL ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
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In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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