Dec. 31, 2012 at 3:07 PM ET
An artist outfitted a cockroach with a special high-tech backpack that allows its movements to be controlled — by anyone. Anyone on Twitter, that is. For a period, eager tweeters were able to direct the roach's behavior with nothing more than a few keystrokes.
The backpack is a modification of a RoboRoach kit, which you can buy for $100 from Backyard Brains. It essentially replaces the natural electrical signals from the roach's antennae with signals provided by a circuit board. The user gives the cockroach the impression that one of its antennae has been touched, so it moves in the opposite direction. (The "surgery" to implant it is interesting, but not for the squeamish.)
Brittany Ransom, an artist based in Dallas, Texas, added a new feature: A Twitter account. During short, designated times, people can tweet at the @TweetRoach account with a special hashtag that sends a signal to the backpack, telling the cyber-roach to go in the direction indicated. In order to preserve the roach's insectile sanity, commands only come every 30 seconds, no matter how frequent the tweeting is.
But this isn't just some form of wanton cruelty directed at everyone's least favorite bug. The goal of the project is to explore whether the creature could learn to ignore the frequent and confusing instructions being sent by the backpack, and cease being controlled at all.
Ransom notes on the project page that more information about the project and her custom roach rig will be available soon.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBCNews Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.