RoboRoach : control a living insect

RoboReach image

RoboR0ach image

RoboRoach is is the world’s first commercially available cyborg. Cockroaches use the antennas on their head to navigate the world around them. When these antennas touch a wall, the cockroach turns away from the wall. The antenna of a cockroach contains neurons that are sensitive to touch and smell. These neurons convey information back to the brain using electricity in the form of spikes. To control cockroaches, microstimulation (neurotechnology) can be used by sending small electrical pulses directly to the neurons of the cockroach antennas via a backpack. A learning kit, called RoboReach kit, has been created by neuroscientists, engineers and educators of the University of Michigan. The cockroach undergoes a short surgery in which wires are placed inside the antenna. Once the insect recovers, a backpack is temporarily placed on its back.


RoboRoach photo

Tim Marzullo and Greg Gage of the University of Michigan founded Backyard Brains, a small company that makes neuroscience educational equipment and experiments for students of all ages. Backyard Brains terminated succesfully in July 2013 a Kickstarter campaign to support the RoboRoach Kit.

Of course, there are underlying ethical questions attached to such experimentation involving living things. People don’t always recognize insects as valuable life forms, but some critics are already speaking out against RoboRoach. Animal rights group PETA has spoken of the project as retrogressive and morally dubious.

In defence of the cockroach: RoboRoach Kickstarter ignores ethics is the title of a contribution posted by Liat Clark in

Backyard Brain has responded to criticisms with this statement on its website:
Our experiments are not philosophically perfect and without controversy; however, we believe the benefits outweigh the cost due to the inaccessibility of neuroscience in our current age.

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Backyard Brains sells other products in their online shop : Spikerbox, EMG Spikerbox, Completo, 3D manipulator, RoachScope.


Last update : August 6, 2013

Verbot 5

Verbots (Verbally Enchanted Software Robots)  is a popular chatterbot program and Artificial Intelligence Software Development Kit (SDK) for the Windows platform and for the web, created by Dr. Michael Mauldin and Peter Plantec.

Some milestones of the history of verbots are presented hereafter :

  • 1989 : TinyMUD Gloria
  • 1990 : TinyMUD Julia
  • 1991 : participation of Julia in the first Loebner Prize contest
  • 1994 : chatterbot Julia
  • 1997 : creation of Virtual Personalities, Inc.
  • 2000 : production release of the virtual human interface Sylvie
  • 2004 : release of the Verbot 4 version
  • 2006 : start of Verbots Online
  • 2010 : relase of the Verbot 5 version

Version 4 of verbots was based on MS Agent which has been discontinued by Microsoft in Windows 7.  A properties viewer of MS agents has been created by AbhiSoft Technologies. A related scripting software has been developed by the same company who also provides a file repository for MS Agents.

Version 5 of verbots uses characters made up of 22 SAPI5 viseme groups and animations. The Conversive Character Studio Application allows you to easily create your own talking characters that are compatible with Verbots and VerbotsOnline using high-quality SAPI 5 tts voices. Conversive characters are defined in a .css file in xml format. Sample visemes are available at the verbots wiki website. Animations are a collection of frames which are displayed on the screen in sequence.

The different verbots file types are :

  • ckb : Compiled KnowledgeBase
  • csv : Comma Separated Values
  • vkb : Verbot KnowledgeBase
  • vrp : Verbot Replacement Profile
  • vsn : Verbot Synonyms

The templates to create the Verbots brain are the following :

  • My answers
  • My Knowledge Bases
  • My Design
  • Install

In the Online version you can browse the chat logs, manage your account and list your bot in the online directory. Several tags are available to commande the Verbot. A Verbot editor allows to create and edit the different templates. KnowledgeBases are created from a collection of Rules. Rules contain Inputs and Outputs. Rules can be Primary Rules, Child Rules or Virtual Child Rules. Conditionals, variables and regular expressions are further means to set up a personality. Special inputs allow to start and stop animations, embedded C# code modules allows to execute programs, schedue tags allow to trigger time events, commands are used to open web adresses or to run applications.

The Teaching.vkb KnowledgeBase allows new rules to be dynamically added while chatting.

ChatVerbots for IRC and AIM are available as beta versions.

The following tutorials about Verbots are available :

  • Creating personalities
  • Creating your first rule
  • Creating child rules
  • Knowledge Base templates and csv files

Communities discussing about verbots are listed below :

Concerning  AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language maintained by the Alice Foundation ), verbots don’t comply to this standard. Verbots KB (Knowledge Base) and AIML both are XML based, but the format is different, the working of engine is different, the usability is different.

A free tool to convert AIML files to Verbots KB files is available at the Verbots website.

The Alice Foundation is more active, more dynamic and more professional, compared to the Verbots Community, whereas the Verbots Technology offers some outstanding features.

The Verbots Online Service was closing down at the end of August 2012. Free webhosting for AIML is still available  : Pandorabots for AIML. To fully customize your Bot and to give him a Voice (TTS), a paid subscription is required. SitePal.

ROVIO : mobile webcam by Wowwee

Last update : May 21, 2013

Rovio Dashboard

Rovio is a WiFi-enabled mobile web cam developed by Wowwee that lets you see, speak and hear from anywhere in the world, as if you were right there in the room. Rovio is equipped with a TrueTrack™ Navigation System that allows you to use the Rovio interface to store waypoints – with one click Rovio will automatically navigate itself to the chosen point. Rovio’s built-in LED headlight will help you guide it even in dimly lit locations, so you’ll always know what is going on at home or at the office. No need to worry about Rovio running low on power while you’re away – the self-docking function allows you to send Rovio back to the charging dock to recharge, with the click of a button on your browser. Rovio has 3 omni-directional wheels to move in all directions. With additional TrueTrack Room Beacons, Rovio can navigate or self-dock across multiple rooms.

Rovio prototypes and final version

Rovio prototypes and final version

In September 2010, I upgraded the Rovio to firmware version 5.0 and tried to install it on a new WiFi network in an artgallery. The setup with a Vista (Service Pack 1) computer didn’t work, the USB connection always failed.

One year later, the setup was succesful. Two years later, In May 2013, I upgraded the Rovio to firmware v5.03 (stable). The current installed software versions on my Rovio are Base 5.3503, TrueTrack 5.13.201.

The Rovio user interface is entirely browser-based, which means you can access Rovio via the Internet using web-enabled devices. The following documents, tutorials and programs are available to control the Rovio robot :



Robodance 5 (Robonote), by Android Technologies, Inc.
version, updated September 23, 2012
uses Skype’s video call service

Robodance 5

Robodance 5

RovioCommander II, by Jesse Mcculley
version 1.909b, updated May 20, 2013

Rovio Commander II

Rovio Commander II

RovioDirect, by E.W.E Software
version 1.2, updated February 9, 2010

Rovio Direct

Rovio Direct

RovioWrap (Rovio Controller), by Scott Settembre
alpha version, updated February 16, 2009
with Microsoft speech recognition

Wowwee Rovio DirectShow Filter
licensed to Wowwee by WebcamXP
version, 2008

Rovio Direct Show Filter

Rovio Direct Show Filter

RoboRealm, by RoboRealm
version 2.50.22, updated May 18, 2013
application for use in computer vision, image analysis, and robotic vision systems

Rovio Control for RoboRealm

Rovio Control for RoboRealm

Rovio Web Plugin for AbelCam WebCam Server, by Stefan Seiz
Release October 17, 2011

Rovio Plugin for AbelCam WebCam Server

Rovio Plugin for AbelCam WebCam Server

Jrovio (Java Rovio), by Marco Andreacchio
version 2.2, updated June 21, 2010

iPhone / iPad

Rovio Control, by Tommy Kammerer
version 1.4, updated January 25, 2013

Rovio Control for iPhone

Rovio Control for iPhone

Rovio Control HD for iPad (Retina), by Tommy Kammerer
version 1.5, updated January 31, 2013

Rovio Control HD for iPad

Rovio Control HD for iPad

ES Pad for Rovio, by (es) Corporation
version 1.0.3, updated July 8, 2011


ES PAD for Rovio

Rovio Driver, by Bertrand Leroy
version 1.5, updated December 11, 2009

Rovio Driver

Rovio Driver

Rovio Chat, by Chi Kong Simon Chan
version 1.1, updated May 11, 2013
supports Rovio’s 2-way audio
needs Rovio Custom Firmware v5.03s Build 3711

Rovio Chat

Rovio Chat


Rovio Blackberry Client, by bbrovio
version 0.11, updated February 17, 2009

Rovio controller for Blackberry

Rovio controller for Blackberry


AndRovio, by Poignont Projects
version 1.2.1
updated March 1, 2011
does not support audio



Windows Mobile

Pocket Rovio, by Carmelo Millian
version 2.1.1, updated January 14, 2010

Pocket Rovio for Windows Mobile

Pocket Rovio for Windows Mobile

Using Rovio

The Rovio has a LED power indicator, the color signals the following states :

  • Blinking : low battery
  • Green : network connection is functioning properly
  • Red : Rovio is being accessed
  • Orange : Rovio is booting and/or trying to connect to a network

The battery pack is charged when Rovio is docked. The blue LED indicators will pulse quickly to indicate that it has begun charging. During charging, the LED indicators will pulse slowly; a single charge takes approximately 4.5 hours for about 1.5 hours of use. When Rovio has finished charging the LED indicators will remain lit. It is safe to leave Rovio on its charging dock after the charge has completed.

To access Rovio from the Internet, port forwarding to Rovio ports 80 and 554 must be set up in the gateway router.

Additional informations about Rovio are available at the following links :