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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot

Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot:
Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine

Garnet Hertz

Last Updated: 23 Dec 2008

General Conceptual Overview

"Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot" is an experimental robotic system that translates the bodily movements of a living, organic insect into the physical locomotion of a three-wheeled robot. Distance sensors at the front of the robot also provide navigation feedback to the cockroach, striving to create a pseudo-intelligent system with the cockroach as the CPU. This project is motivated by three key concepts: 1. Biomimetics, 2. The Cyborg, and 3. The Computational/Biological.

  1. Biomimetics is an approach to technological development that looks toward living, organic systems as a source of technical inspiration. Specifically within the field of robotics, cockroaches are admired and used as models for navigation logic and the physical construction of mobile robotic systems. Instead of using a model of an insect, "Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot" inverts biomimetics by using the real thing.
  2. The Cyborg: Popular culture appears to have a recurring interest in the human-machine and animal-machine hybrid. This project strives to construct a literal cybernetic organism that plays into and off of cultural and scientific visions of synthetic and organic hybridity. Despite the somewhat popular "cyborg" Science Fiction concept, few hybrid robots like this have been built.
  3. Thirdly, the Computational and Biological. This project, in essence, is a robotic system in which a computer-based microcontroller is replaced with a biologically-based insect. In the process, the operating machine highlights key characteristics of being biological. The robot and insect display attributes like unpredictability, laziness, irrationality and emotional response.

These three motivations are embodied in the mobile robot system, a platform that makes the intentions of the insect legible to a wide and diverse audience. Although technically and conceptually complex, the system is easily understood by young and old with little or no explanation. Individuals tend to watch the robot for extended periods of time, empathizing with the insect, and trying to discern whether or not the organism is controlling or being controlled by the technology... and whether it is aware of, immersed in, or pleased by its synthetic and mediated environment.

Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot won Honorable Mention at Vida 9.0 Art & Artificial Life International Competition (Madrid, Spain) in 2006 and won the XXV Oscar Signorini Prize (Milan, Italy) in 2008. For more information on the Oscar Signorini Prize , see

For an audio overview, listen to ORF Radio - Gelinda Lang - Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot 2.6M MP3 File (interview broadcast on ORF from Ars Electronica 2005).

Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot #1

(also known as "Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine")

Cockroach pimps a sweet ride

posted Jun 11th 2010 1:00pm by Mike Szczys
filed under: robots hacks

This giant Madagascar hissing cockroach rides proudly atop his three-wheeled robotic platform. This project from several years ago is new to us and our reaction to the video after the break is mixed. We find ourselves creeped out, delighted, amazed, and saddened.

The cockroach controlled robot uses a trackball type input. A ping-pong ball is spun by a cockroach perched on top. The lucky or tortured (depending on how you look at it) little bug has an array of lights in front of it that illuminate when obstacles are in front of the robot. The roach’s natural aversion to light should make it move its legs away from that part of the display, thereby moving the robot away from the obstruction.

We’ve seen some bio-hacking in the past. There were robots that run off of rat brain cells and remote controlled beetles. But none of these projects make us want to get into this type of experimentation. How about you?

[Thanks Scottman]

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