RoboRoach + Twitter = Crowdsourced cockroach steering

#cyborgcockroacheswillruletheworld

Artist Brittany Ransom has built a tiny cockroach backpack which lets her remote control a cockroach with Twitter. For science art! CNET has a video of the insectoid cyborg:

Ransom let visitors to the Chicago Artists' Coalition's exhibition Life, in some form control the roach by tweeting the hashtags #turnroachleft and #turnroachright at its twitter account, @tweetroach. Every thirty seconds, the winning hashtag was sent as a command to the insect through the RoboRoach control circuit.

Ransom passed on her artist's statement to CNET:

At what point does its intelligence and ability take over? How much does it take before we are all desensitized to overstimulation? As we, as human beings, grow more cyborgian and interconnected through social media, this project helps us participate in discovering the answer.

While Ransom's point is compelling, the real wizardry lies in the RoboRoach gear itself. Created and sold by neuroscience hackers Backyard Brains, the kit lets anyone build cyborg cockroaches at home (some assembly required).

After some minor roach surgery, it sends small electric currents to the roaches antennae, making it think it's running into a wall. Zap the left antennae, and it'll turn right, and vice-versa.

Backyard Brains describe the experiments you can do with the kit:

You can use this experimental model to teach your students about current neurotechnology. For example, 1) How long before the cockroach adapts to the stimulation and learns to ignore it?, and 2) What is the optimal circuit design to make the electronics as simple and light as possible?

It's like a 21st century spin to the idea that cockroaches will survive nuclear war: TwitterRoach will probably learn to adapt to and ignore twitter long before we do. The ultimate survivor indeed.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Amazon's unlikely role in the Calais relief efforts

Campaigners are using Amazon's wishlist feature - more commonly used for weddings and birthdays - to rally supplies for the thousands camped at Calais. 

Today and yesterday, relief efforts have sprung up across the web and IRL following the publication of shocking photos of a drowned refugee child. People are collecting second hand clothes and food, telling David Cameron to offer refuge, and generally funneling support and supplies to the thousands in Calais and across Europe who have been forced from their homes by conflict in Syria and elsewhere. 

One campaign, however, stuck out in its use of technology to crowdsource supplies for the Calais camp. An Amazon wishlist page - more familiar as a way to circulate birthday lists or extravagant wedding registries - has been set up as part of the  #KentforCalais and #HelpCalais campaigns, and is collecting donations of clothes, food, toiletries, tents and sleeping supplies. 

Judging by the Twitter feed of writer and presenter Dawn O'Porter, one of the list's organisers, shoppers have come thick and fast. Earlier today, another user tweeted that there were only six items left on the list - because items had sold out, or the requested number had already been purchased - and O'Porter tweeted shortly after that another list had been made. Items ordered through the list will be delivered to organisers and than transported to Calais in a truck on 17 September. 

This, of course, is only one campaign among many, but the repurposing of an Amazon feature designed to satiate first world materialism as a method of crisis relief seems to symbolise the spirit of the efforts as a whole. Elsewhere, Change.org petitions, clothes drives organised via Facebook, and Twitter momentum (which, in this case, seems to stretch beyond the standard media echo chamber) have allowed internet users to pool their anger, funds and second-hand clothes in the space of 24 hours. It's worth noting that Amazon will profit from any purchases made through the wishlist, but that doesn't totally undermine its usefulness as a way to quickly and easily donate supplies. 

Last year, I spoke to US writer and urbanist Adam Greenfield, who was involved New York's Occupy Sandy movement (which offered relief after after hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2011) and he emphasised the centrality of technology to the relief effort in New York:

Occupy Sandy relied completely on a Googledocs spreadsheet and an Amazon wishlist.  There was a social desire that catalysed uses of technology through it and around it. And if that technology didn't exist it might not have worked the way it did. 

So it's worth remembering, even as Amazon suffers what may be the worst PR disaster in its history and Silicon Valley's working culture is revealed to be even worse than we thought, that technology, in the right hands, can help us make the world a better place. 

You can buy items on the Amazon wishlist here or see our list of other ways to help here

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.