Backyard Brains' RobotRoach App.
Backyard Brains' RobotRoach App.

Animal rights campaigners have condemned a company for selling a device that allows people to create their own robo-bugs and remotely control cockroaches using a mobile phone app.

US Start-up Backyard Brains claims the device will encourage children to learn about neuroscience.

"Have you ever wanted to walk down the hall of your school or department with your own remote controlled cockroach?" the company website asks, and offers people the chance to own the "world's first commercially available cyborg."

"It's an educational kit, it's not a toy," company co-founder Greg Gage told Time, and added, "we want people to learn about the biological systems."

To activate the device, a grisly procedure is necessary.

A cockroach must be immersed in cold water to stun it, then its antennae partially severed and a needle used to insert a wire into the insect's thorax.

Then, a circuit must be superglued to its back allowing the course of its movement to be controlled using a mobile phone app.

However, experts claim that that the only lesson children will learn from the device is to be cruel to animals.

"It's not okay to torture and mutilate cockroaches," said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals attorney, Jared Goodman. "There is no way a child is going to learn anything about neurological diseases or be interested in studying it in the future based on mutilating a cockroach."

The organisation has filed a criminal complaint, calling on authorities in Michigan to prosecute the Ann Arbour based company for practising veterinary medicine without a license.

Queen's University philosophy Professor Michael Allen told the BBC he believed the device will "encourage amateurs to operate invasively on living organisms" and "encourage thinking of complex living organisms as mere machines or tools".

Animal behaviour scientist Jonathan Balcombe claims the cockroaches are permanently harmed in the process.

But the company has hit back, and argues that with 20 per cent of the world's population expected to become ill with a neurological disorder in the coming decades, children need to be urgently encouraged to take an interest in neuroscience at a young age.

"At the moment this crucially important subject is woefully under-taught," a Backyard Brains spokeswoman told the BBC. "With many schools teaching neuroscience within the biology syllabus when it should be a subject in its own right.

"That is especially the case when diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer's take a heavier toll within society."

Gage insists the company is not breaking any laws, and says they have so far sold about 300 of the kits at $99 (£61) each.

He said that the bugs recovered after about a week after the electrodes were withdrawn and added "These are roaches that people would easily kill in their apartments."

Bluetooth-enables RoboRoach.