Cockroach controlled by Tweeted commands

Cyborg cockroaches have already made it out of science fiction and into fact – and now they’ve become a piece of interactive art.

Artist Brittany Ransom has created TweetRoach, an installation at the ‘Life, In Some Form’ exhibition now running in Chicago.

Ransom equipped a cockroach with a $100 off-the-shelf Arduino backpack that stimulated its antennae. She then hooked this up to some custom software, so that the bug could be directed to move on the basis of Tweeted commands.

To control the roach’s movements, Ransom encouraged people to log into Twitter and use the hashtags #TweetRoachLeft or #TweetRoachRight to control the insect’s movements. Ransom says she wanted to examine information overload and the extent to which we become desensitized to it – although remote-controlling an insect must have been fun too.

Apparently the stimulation doesn’t hurt the roach, which simply feels it’s bumped into something. Sessions were restricted to short periods and, to avoid overload, only one instruction was allowed to get through every 30 seconds.

Unsurprisingly, scientists and the military have also been taking an interest in remotely controlling cockroaches and other insects. A year ago, for example, Case Western Reserve University scientists announced that they’d succeeded in exploiting a roach’s internal chemistry to power sensors or control the bug itself.

And last March, a team at Drexel University used electrodes to control the movements of a rhinoceros beetle in an effort to improve the aerodynamic performance of aircraft.