Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot (version 3) by Garnet Hertz. Featured on The Science Channel (USA, 2008). Shot by Outline Productions.

"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.

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