Cockroach Control System (via Psychological Manipulation)




Allows a microcomputer (e.g. basic stamp) to autonomously control a cockroach's direction of movement. You could also make a remote control system. The basic stamp sends TTL signals to a uLN2803 chip which amplifies the current enough to contract a nitinol (shape memory alloy) strand. The contracting nitinol strand flips open one of two flaps which hang on either side of the cockroach's antennae. This creates an illusion for the cockroach of
--"wall left, open right", and
--"wall right, open left"
which in turn controls the cockroaches movement (it's not going to move left if it feels a 'wall' on the left.

I recently realized that probably a better way of controlling the cockroaches movements is by just putting one LED on each side of its head, since they run away from light. Just turn both on to make it go forward, and one on to make it turn left or right. LEDs would require a lot less power and mechanical complexity. I'm going to try it out.

Cockroach backpack paradigm being tested, cockroach responded as desired to the backpack commands

Cockroach backpack being tested, nitinol constriction moves antenna flap.

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Step 1: Making the Backpack

When I put together the backpack, it was my first electronic project ever, so it ended up being excessively heavy. I used a camera flash battery to supply the pulse of current needed to contract the nitinol, but you would want to use a capacitor and a smaller battery to reduce weight. I used periplaneta americana which is strong and moves a lot. I also tried giant madagascar hissing cockroaches but they just sleep all the time and are very slow. You should buy these from animal supply places, otherwise you'll have to wait a long time for the roaches in your kitchen to get big enough (about 1.5 inches).

I used really crappy materials that I had on hand to make the backpack, it could be built a lot better with different materials. Apparently nitinol can be soldered, which I didn't know at the time, so I crimped the nitinol at its ends (pretty friggen annoying).

If you reduce the weight enough you could make it remote controlled (instead of controlled by preprogrammed commands from the basic stamp). See the remote control diagram. You could also add sensors and make the basic stamp use the sensors to control the roach.

Step 2: Making the Backpack Circuit

I made my backpack like shown below, but you should use smaller batteries anc capacitors to power the contraction of the nitinol.

You can make the backpack remote controlled (see diagram with RF receiver).

You can make the basic stamp issue preprogrammed commands (see diagram without RF receiver)

Or you can make the basic stamp use sensors to make autonomous decisions (no diagram for that).

To reduce weight, I used cardboard and taped the electronic components to it. I wire wrapped the pins of the electronics to each other.

Step 3: Attaching the Backpack

you'll need to knock out the cockroach. I had a CO2 gas outlet at school, so I hooked a hose up to it and stuck the hose into the cockroaches box. When you hear it stop running around, it's asleep.

Gently slide it out of its box onto a 'gas stage' (don't know what these are called but look at the photo). This gas stage emits CO2 so the cockroach stays asleep.

Carefully clip off the wings to avoid cutting the exoskeleton. Cut far away from the attachment point and work your way closer so as not to damage anything else.

Put a small drop of super glue onto your backpack and attach it on the second segment (see picture) of the cockroach. DO NOT use too much glue or you will glue the segments together.

Turn off the gas and let the cockroach wake up. Make sure it's in an arena or it might run off with your backpack.

To remove the backpack, knock the cockroach out again, put a tiny bit of solvent (like acetone) on the tip of something and dab it around the edges of the backpack. It will come loose.

Let the cockroack wake up and return it to its cage. See my instructable on how to care for cockroaches:

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    63 Discussions


    Reply 1 year ago

    If they feel threatened, or they think you are food, they will bite, just like they would in the wild. They can also learn though and they wouldn't want to waste time and energy trying to eat something that's not food. So if they think you're food the first time you handle them, and they take a nibble, they probably won't bite you again in the future, because they will probably learn that the smell of your hand is not food. However, if you feed them from your hand often, they may never learn that your hand's smell = "no food", they may in fact learn the opposite, and start biting you more. So if you don't want them to bite when you handle them, it would be safest to not feed them from your hand.


    Reply 1 year ago

    By the way, all of that is a theory based on what I know about animal learning. I've never handled cockroaches as pets, so take my advice with a grain of salt.


    2 years ago

    I've read a few pest control sites' roach pages like this one

    in the past, and some
    mentioned roaches biting people. I thought to myself "What a stupid
    idea. Every roach site says that that roaches do not bite". Just a
    minute ago, though, I think I experienced what one would call a roach
    "bite" from an adult male Blaberus discoidalis. When I handle
    them, they're usually very jittery and flutter off of my hand, which is
    really entertaining -the distances they can cover are sometimes beyond
    what I expect, and I have to go on a little roach hunt to get them back.
    Anyway, I was handling him and he seemed pretty calm and suddenly, to
    my surprise, he gave my hand a firm nibble with his mandibles. It scared
    me a lot more than I thought it would, and I almost flung him off. I
    think he was trying to eat me as my Pycnoscelus surinamensis
    often do, but when they do it, it's much more gentle, and they continue
    to chew for a while before giving up. This discoid, though, gave me a
    pretty big jump. Interesting behavior; I wonder if they ever use this
    for self defense?

    Has anyone else experienced something like this?


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Cockroaches are funner to step on than waste time with


    12 years ago

    Cruelty,simply cruelty. :-( how would you like it if someone controlled you?HUH!

    4 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    You've never been to my house... We have so many roaches, you would hate them too... I ended up burning them, (flamethrower ftw!!) crushing, smearing, flipping them on their backs and backing them over with my mom's van, one accidentally got into the dishwasher one time while my mom was in the kitchen...she locked it in and turned the dishwasher on... We never saw that roach again.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Cockroaches aren’t so hard to control. You simply need to familiar with the symptoms that you have a roach swarm, and next you have to find out where their shell is. Then you must discover a way to acquire at the case to take care of it. Oh, and you have to know how to do those action methods for the highest optimistic result.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I once thought of spraying some perfume over a rat collony to cause a civil war. Since they are very aggresive if they are not able to recognize their neighbour's odor...
    I fancy these projects. Most of todays best inventions were product of crazy ideas like this one!


    I know this thread has been dead for a while but I felt like commenting on those who said this was cruel and those who might. 

    I acknowlege that this isn't how a cockroach might normally spend its day but it is by no means cruel.  The author has taken the time to prevent damage to the cockroach that might prevent it from surviving if freed.  He also provides an easy means of taking the backpack off without causing harm.  As for the CO2 used to "anesthetize" the cockroach, this does no harm.  In fact, most roaches can live for close to an hour without any air at all.

    As for the actual device that is being used.  It is no more "controlling" the cockroach then the lines on the highway control you when you drive.  They guide you and this works to guide the roach by using it's natural navigation mechanism in non-invasive/reversible way.  The roach maintains any free will it might have had and it doesn't have to follow the path set for it.  It follows it because that is what it is programmed to find comfortable.

    It is important to ensure everyone and everything is treated kindly and fairly but knee jerk reactions have no value and have held back progress for centuries.  People died terrible deaths because people didn't see value in experimentation.  Sure, this and other experiments have no immediate applications but think of what could be done if it is perfected.  Educate yourself on things you don't understand before expressing an opinion and accept your opinion is likely flawed if you don't.  Today, with the internet, there is no excuse for being ignorant of facts and just because you disagree with fact doesn't make it less of a fact.  Prove it wrong if you are so sure it is.

    I thank you for allowing my rant and I am done now.


    Reply 12 years ago

    Cruel? No no, this is bad ass. people who feel sympothy for cockroaches clearly have never lived with them.