The Michigan-based company Backyard Brains has been under fire since presenting The RoboRoach on Saturday, a Kickstarter-funded project that consists of an ‘electronic backpack’ that controls a cockroach’s movements with a phone app.
To apply the backpack into the cockroach you first have place the insect in ice water, remove the coating on the shell of its head, glue electrodes to its body, poke a hole into its thorax to insert a wire, cut its antennae and insert electrodes.
According to Backyard Brains, the ice water ‘anaesthesia’ prevents the cockroach from experiencing pain, although ‘it is debatable whether they experience pain at all,’ they state on their website.
Despite the undeniable cruelty, a spokeswoman for the company insisted to the BBC that the animals are treated humanely and that the $99 device is not a gimmick and it is intended to get children to be interested in neuroscience.
“That is especially the case when diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s take a heavier toll within society,” said the spokeswoman.
“If it was discovered that a teacher was having students use magnifying glasses to burn ants and then look at their tissue, how would people react?” said animal behaviour scientist Jonathan Balcombe with the Humane Society University in Washington DC.
“The device will encourage amateurs to operate invasively on living organisms” and “encourage thinking of complex living organisms as mere machines or tools,” said Queen’s University Professor Michael Allen.
Bioethicist Gregory Kaebnick described RoboRoach as “a way of playing with living things”, similar to the Harry Potter “Imperius Curse”.