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High School Students Hack Our RoboRoach Kit, Make it Better

We have been slowly rolling out our RoboRoach kits (we started shipping our beta units in late March 2011, and we have shipped 14 so far), and today we received some reports from the field. Robert Uglesich, a Professor at Cooper Union in Manhattan, used our RoboRoach kits this summer to teach high school students about microstimulation, analog electronics, and the neural basis of behavior. He reported today:

“I wanted to write to let you know that the summer program ended today and the students had a blast working with the RoboRoach kits.  These last few weeks they were so enthused that they were getting to campus and starting to work before I even came in.”

There was a brief write-up today in the New York Times, but, more interestingly, the students made their own website summarizing their results. Their chief findings were:

1) The cerci nerves adapt more slowly to the stimulation than the antenna nerves. Also, stimulating cerci enables forward motion (our current antennal prep only allows right and left).

2) Randomizing the stimulation to the antenna nerves by using music patterns (instead of the constant 55 Hz stimulation we have set on the circuit) causes habituation to occur more slowly as well.

Thus, a three channel stimulator, with more heterogeneous stimulation patterns, would enable a RoboRoach system with forward, left, and right turning control that adapts more slowly. Nice work students! Impressive! Can we join your lab?

Our current efforts on the RoboRoach are to make the circuit lighter and reduce assembly time. Our current production version (gen3) weighs 6.25 g, an improvement from our first (9 g) and second (8 g) prototypes. It still takes about 6 hours to build however, so we are researching circuit configurations and interconnects that take less time to assemble and test.