Monday, November 30, 2015


No comments
The OnePlus Icons earphones are now available to buy in India at a price tag of Rs. 2,999. The earphones were until now limited to the US, where they cost at $49.99. The earphones are now available to buy from Amazon India.
The company announced availability for Monday over the weekend. It says the OnePlus Icons earphones design takes cues from the organ piano, and they are made of aluminium. The in-ear earphones come with multiple sizes of silicone ear tips. As compared to most of the other earphones in the market that feature 9mm drivers, the Icons earphones include 11mm drivers for better bass and treble performance.
OnePlus Icons also include a three-button in-line remote control, which enables users to play or pause their music, increase or decrease audio volume, and answer incoming phone calls. It is “compatible with all OnePlus devices and most Android phones,” says the company.
The earphones have a cable length of 1.25 metres and a sound pressure of 110dB. With a frequency range of 20-20,000Hz, the OnePlus Icons are available in only the Graphite colour in India, though a Gold variant was also announced.
OnePlus has previously launched its Silver Bullet Earphones and has also collaborated with JBL for E1+ Earphones for OnePlus One.
The company last month launched its third smartphone – the OnePlus X. The dual-SIM supportingOnePlus X, running OxygenOS based on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, features a 5-inch full-HD (1080×1920 pixels) Amoled display, and is powered by a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC coupled with 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM. It comes with 16GB of built-in storage expandable via microSD card (up to 128GB). Also included are a 13-megapixel rear camera with flash and an f/2.2 aperture, an 8-megapixel front-facing camera with an f/2.4 aperture.

Amazon Shows Off New Prime Air Drone With Hybrid Design

No comments

Amazon delivered a lovely update on its ‘Prime Air’ project today — almost exactly two years after it showed the first iteration of its drone. You know, the flying delivery drone that some thought was a massive joke meant for April 1st. Included are some high-res shots and two new videos.
The video, moderated by ex-Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson (who is now working on a new series for Amazon), talks about the design and your experience as a recipient:

As you can see, Amazon has now moved to a hybrid design. It looks much bigger than in previous renderings. Imagine that thing flying towards the neighbor’s house. Get ready for reports of aliens rising if this thing ever comes to fruition.
The new Prime Air drone isn’t just a quadcopter anymore. It still takes off and lands vertically, but then it switches to a regular horizontal flight mode, which is far more efficient. It’s basically part helicopter, part airplane. With this new design, the drone can cover over 15 miles and fly over 55 mph, Amazon says. In the video, Clarkson says Amazon is working on a family of drones for different environments and purposes.

The new drones feature at least some degree of sense-and-avoid technology and once it arrives at its intended location, it’ll scan the area and look for a landing spot. Right now, it looks like users will be able to mark this spot in their yard, for example, with an Amazon logo. The drone then lands, drops off the package and takes off again.
“This design enables it to fly long distances efficiently and go straight up and down in a safe, agile way. It is one of many prototype vehicles we have developed,” an Amazon spokesperson told us. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.”
Obviously, Amazon still has a few hurdles to climb, even with this new design. Chances are, we won’t see these new drones deliver packages in a city anytime soon. The new design, however, should work really well in a more rural and suburban area (and yes, feel free to leave us a comment about how you would shoot it down if it flew over your house).
If Amazon can solve some of the harder sense-and-avoid issues (like small power lines), then maybe Prime Air will take off sooner than many of use expected (assuming Amazon manages to work within the FAA’s upcoming regulations for commercial drones).

For comparison, here is what the old drone looked like:

Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates Join Forces To Invest in Clean Energy Technology

No comments

The founders of Facebook and Microsoft are teaming up to solve climate change. Mark Zuckerberg announced today that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition with Bill Gates to invest in zero-carbon energy technology around the world. The organization’s membership roster includes some of the most prolific names in technology, including Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, and Masayoshi Son.
The news was timed to coincide with the U.N. Climate Control Conference, which will take place in Paris this week. During the event, Gates and U.S. President Barack Obama are expected to unveil a significant new initiative called Mission Innovation, which will work with governments to double public investments in energy research over the next five years.
According to the Washington Post, the 19 countries that have already joined Mission Innovation will increase their annual spending on clean-energy research and development to $20 billion by 2020.
Mission Innovation and the Breakthrough Energy Coalition are separate programs, but will work closely together in countries that have committed to reducing carbon emissions.

On its website, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition explains that its goal is to cover gaps in government funding in countries by commercializing the most promising and scalable ideas to come out of public research institutions. It will take a flexible attitude toward investments, providing early-stage to Series A funding in several sectors, including electricity generation and storage, transportation, industrial use, agriculture, and energy system efficiency.

How Education Will Be Smarter, Less Intrusive, And Able To Respond To How You Feel

No comments

Impatience characterizes the technology sector’s approach to education. Disruption is taking place in all other sectors of society — so, why not education? I know too well, whether at Pearson or in the classroom, the challenges and frustration of developing and using digital tools that improve outcomes for students.
But I’m optimistic. We are on the verge of a tide of smarter innovation that, if allowed to spread, will turbocharge the learning experience for students. Here are four areas worth watching:
1. Using technology to learn from learners
Every great digital product constantly evolves by learning from its users, adding capabilities, and improving its performance. If it’s true for your Facebook feed, then why not education?
The potential is there, as the OECD’s recent report on Students, Computers and Learning (OECD) incidentally showed how clickstream and tracking navigation in digital readers can be used to see how students process online text and arrive at the answer in different ways.
In practice, companies like Renaissance Learning can point to the small margins of usage (4.7 minutes) of its reading program, separating the top performing and lagging students.
Akin to how Amazon “knows what you want before you buy it,” edtech companies are also starting to build algorithms that can make learning more personal. For instance, based on behaviors of successful students, we can begin to predict whether a learner is on track or at risk.
This allows teachers to intervene and provide assistance when a student most needs help before they fall behind. It also allows education content creators to tweak learning material – such as the length of a video or article – based on how a student interacts with it and progresses in subsequent activities.
Learning products should continually evolve to benefit learners and learning. Developers should make sure the best ideas from learning science, education practice, teacher feedback, and learning analytics inform those changes. The constant iteration, investment and learning baked into Teach to One provides a great example of what young companies should be emulating.
When I look at the growing Education Innovation Clusters or the useful tips on better ed-tech pilots provided by Digital Promise, I’m excited to see the idea of continuous improvement and learning being baked into the development and effective use of digital learning products.
2. Using technology to adapt to how students feel
Adaptive learning technologies today address what a student knows and can do. Programs such as Knewton alter what lessons are offered based on how individual students do in solving problems and where they may have gaps in knowledge.
However, a large body of research shows that how a student feels – frustrated, bored or confused – influences how much learning takes place. Can technology adapt to this to increase learning? DARPA thinks so–and is willing to invest in great ideas to get at what they call Full Spectrum Learning.
We are already seeing some examples of this in lab settings. Researchers have tracked student emotions while using Crystal Island–a game-based learning environment– and used that research to predict how students will react in other learning situations  The London Knowledge Lab is exploring the creation of a tool which will allow the feedback to be adjusted based on a student’s emotional state. These efforts align with a larger body of research into how tools, such as intelligent tutors, which are aware and can adapt to student’s emotions (or “affect”) can better serve students and contribute to improved student outcomes.
3. Building invisible assessments that are less intrusive 
Teach. Stop. Test. Teach. Stop. Test.
 It’s disruptive for teachers; it’s annoying for parents; and it’s not fair on students. We are finally seeing examples of a move away from this approach to assessment.
Teachers can now use the enormous amounts of data gathered in rich environments, such as games and virtual reality, to understand student progress and where to go next, in a way that’s personalized for each student.
Take SimCityEdu: Pollution Challenge – developed by GlassLab Games – where students learn how city-planning is impacted by environmental issues. As they play the game, the system is capturing their actions – such as the sequence of what they do or requests for help – and interprets patterns in data to assess how well the player understands important concepts. This helps teachers better evaluate how a student solves problems, rather than just the final product of their work.
In time, learning games like this should decrease reliance on stop-and-test exams and provide more real-time and actionable information to teachers.
4.  Keeping pace with technology in the classroom
 As we shift from print to digital educational tools, the volume of tools available to teachers has increased dramatically. Some tools – often apps – are rooted in research, pedagogy, and continuous improvement. Others are no more than junk food in a student’s educational diet. How is a teacher or parent to tell the difference?

BlackBerry Confirms It Will Exit Pakistan After Rejecting Data Monitoring Demands

No comments

BlackBerry has confirmed that it is exiting Pakistan entirely in response to the national government’s continued demand to monitor user data on the Canadian company’s service.
Back in July, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) said it would shutter BlackBerry Enterprise Services (known as BES) by December 1 for “security reasons.” The issue was thought to center around BlackBerry’s encryption of emails, BBM messages and other data from its users which prevented authorities from gaining the access to information that they deemed necessary for national security.
BlackBerry kept silent at the time, but now the phone maker, which recently launched its first Android handset, has confirmed it will leave the country — with a population of 180 million people — after November 30 after it refused to grant Pakistani authorities access to its systems.
The truth is that the Pakistani government wanted the ability to monitor all BlackBerry Enterprise Service traffic in the country, including every BES e-mail and BES BBM message. But BlackBerry will not comply with that sort of directive. As we have said many times, we do not support “back doors” granting open access to our customers’ information and have never done this anywhere in the world.
Pakistan’s demand was not a question of public safety; we are more than happy to assist law enforcement agencies in investigations of criminal activity. Rather, Pakistan was essentially demanding unfettered access to all of our BES customers’ information. The privacy of our customers is paramount to BlackBerry, and we will not compromise that principle.
Interestingly, while the PTA was focused only on gaining access to BES, BlackBerry said it has decided to withdraw its consumer business (BIS: BlackBerry’s Internet Services) from the country too.
“Pakistan’s demand for open access to monitor a significant swath of our customers’ communications within its borders left us no choice but to exit the country entirely,” Beard added.
While it isn’t clear exactly how many customers — business and consumer — BlackBerry has in Pakistan, the phone-maker has seen its consumer market share dwindle to an all-time low, even in emerging markets where it once ruled, as affordable Android devices with more apps and options have risen. For that reason, its presence within the enterprise space is particularly important — although even that pie is being eaten at by Apple and Android phone makers taking advantage of ‘bring your own device’ policies that enable employees to have consumer devices as work phones.
Pakistan isn’t likely to be a major revenue source for the company, and, on the positive side, this move shows it is making a stand for user data and security, two areas where it has long believed that it can stand apart from the competition — particularly in the enterprise space. You be sure that BlackBerry will be keen to make that point to its existing and prospective customers.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Cortana For iOS Begins Rolling Out To Testers

No comments

A feature Instagram users have wanted for some time – support for switching between multiple accounts directly in the app – is now being tested, according to a new report out this morning. Select members in Instagram’s official beta testing group for Androidhave spotted the option in Instagram’s settings in their beta build of the mobile application. The feature allows users to add or create additional accounts for use in Instagram that you can then switch between without first having to sign out of your current account.
News of the beta test was first discovered by the blog Android Police, which was pointed to the feature by way of a tipster who also provided screenshots of account switching in action.
Instagram declined to comment on the tests, when reached earlier this morning.
However, we have been able to duplicate this report independently.

To access the new option, beta testers can scroll down to the bottom to the bottom of the Settings page in Instagram, then look for the “Add Account” option just below “Clear Search History” and above “Log Out.”
From here, you’re able to enter in another set of Instagram credentials or set up a new account using either a username and password combination, or by authenticating with Facebook. After the account has been added, you can then switch between them using a new selector that appears at the top left of the screen on your user profile page. Instagram’s app also confirms when you’ve switched accounts by way of a green pop-up banner notification.
The option to switch between multiple accounts is something Instagram users have been demanding for some time. And the request doesn’t only come from those whose jobs require them to maintain different accounts, like social media managers, for example.
While obviously useful for those in the business world, account switching is a common activity among Instagram’s younger user base, as well. In fact, there’s even teenage slang related to this – “finstagram,” or “finsta” for short, stands for “fake Instagram account.”
This is a separate account teens maintain outside of their “real” Instagrams, which are far more polished. Ironically, the teens’ finstagrams actually portray a truer version of their lives. They are filled with the photos that only their close friends get to see – like unflattering pictures, screenshots of text messages, and other, more mundane images that don’t make the cut for their real Instagrams that are shown to the world.
The rise of these secondary accounts came about because many teens felt their main Instagrams weren’t presenting an authentic images of their real lives. As is the case on a lot of social media services, users tend to present the best version of themselves in their posts, but that can also be limiting. Teens’ real Instagrams, sometimes called “rinstagrams” or “rinstas,” are filled with aesthetically pleasing photos, those that make them appear popular and successful, and are also safe to show to parents. Finstagrams include everything else.
It’s unclear at what point Instagram will finalize testing of the account switching option and then roll it out to the larger Instagram user base, or if such plans are even on its roadmap. The company may also consider trialing different means of offering this option before committing to a public release.
In the meantime, Instagram users interested in testing account switching for themselves can join the Instagram beta test group here, then install the updated version of Instagram on their supported Android device

Romain Jerome Creates A Watch For True Mario Fans

No comments

Do you like Nintendo? Do you have $19,000? I think we found you a watch. The Romain Jerome Super Mario Bros. the watchmaker’s take on good old Mario and his mushroom-induced adventures and is aimed at collectors who aren’t afraid to drop twenty grand on nostalgia.
The watch is RJ’s third arcade-themed piece and joins his Pac Man watch as well as his Space Invaders piece. The watch has an automatic movement but the real work went into the face which features a 3D playing field and enameled figures including a mushroom, a cloud, a bush, and finally a mightily-jumping Mario. The case is 46mm wide and the watch is limited to 85 pieces in honor of the game’s launch in 1985.
Obviously you’re not going to drop $20K on this thing (right?) but it’s a fun piece from one of the manufacturers who are actually tying to do something a little different in the luxury oeuvre. Plus Mario looks great up close.

Amazon Is Giving Away Unlimited Cloud Storage For $5.00

No comments

Amid a slew of deep discounts appearing on the web today as a part of the shopping holiday Black Friday, Amazon has introduced one deal that’s sort of a no brainer. The company is giving away unlimited online storage on its cloud servers for just five dollars. The normal price for this is $60 per year, so this – 92% off – represents a significant savings.
The deal is aimed at promoting Amazon’s Cloud Drive service – an online storage site that competes with similar services like Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and more. Cloud Drive allows you to store documents, music, photos, videos and other files in the cloud, which you can access from any web-connected device, including smartphones and tablets by way of Amazon’s Cloud Drive mobile applications.
However, be aware that if you’re planning to use the now $5 service primarily for photo backups, you may already have that option enabled. Amazon Prime currently offers free, unlimited photo backup as one of its benefits, so you may not need to sign up for Cloud Drive if you don’t need to archive other file types, as well.
What’s also great about this deal is that it’s not just being offered to newcomers, as a way to incentivize them to try out Amazon Cloud Drive for the first time. Current customers can take advantage of discount, too, says Amazon – you’ll be given a prorated refund on your current plan after you buy the $5.00 deal.
But be aware that the $5.00 is not a one-time fee. Cloud Drive is sold as an annual subscription, which means when the service comes up for renewal, you may be again paying full price (unless the company runs a similar promotion, of course.)
For Amazon, giving away storage space – basically a commodity at this point – is not much of a burden. The company introduced the option for unlimited cloud storage earlier this year, with the simplified pricing to make it competitive with tiered-based services that charge more than Amazon’s $5 per month to host so many files.
But at the end of the day, consumers may not choose their storage service based solely on price – user experience, including ease-of-use and feature set, will also come into play. While Amazon’s software has gotten better over the past months, it’s still not as developed or as polished a service as those from rivals like Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Box and others. Competitors’ cloud drives tie into their other services – like their software for collaborate document editing in the cloud, for example, among other things.
But for $5.00, there’s really not much reason not to grab a huge chunk of online storage space for yourself – at least for the year ahead.

Breaking Down Billion-Dollar AR/VR Investment In The Last 12 Months

No comments

Augmented/Virtual Tech, Real Investment
Augmented and virtual reality are the new hotness, as VCs and corporates get in on the act. While Facebook’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of Oculus got everyone’s attention early last year, it’s only in the last 12 months that investments accelerated.
There was a slow trickle of AR/VR investments from 2006 until late 2014. Then Magic Leapraised $542 million from Google and others. This was the starting gun for investment accelerating, with nearly $1 billion poured into the sector in the last 12 months.
Last quarter alone saw more than 6x the investment in the market from Q2 2014. While VC and corporate communities are still developing an informed focus on the industry, their interest has never been higher.
Digi-Capital AR-VR investments 2011 to 2015
Magic Leap took more than half the money in the last 12 months, and there are reports that they’re raising another billion. VCs and corporates have also become excited beyond our Floridian friends, with an impressive diversity of investment in a market that hasn’t really launched yet.
There have been significant investments in AR/VR head-mounted displays, video, solutions/services, advertising/marketing, games and apps. As the ecosystem begins to take shape, the investment community is providing the fuel to take AR/VR skywards.
Digi-Capital AR-VR investments LTM

Not An Exit Market Yet

Facebook’s Oculus acquisition was another catalyst for investors and corporates, but there has been a bigger impact on investment than M&A so far.
The AR/VR market delivered $250 million of M&As in the last 12 months, with Intel buying Recon accounting for around three-quarters of the total. That could change dramatically next year, as major corporates try to leapfrog the competition through buying hot startups.
Digi-Capital AR-VR M+A LTM

Virtually Guaranteed To Be Augmented

With the AR/VR market beginning to launch, the investment community today is divided into true believers like Intel, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, and those taking a wait and see attitude.
There will be bumps in the road next year, but fortune favors the brave in early stage investment markets. When the market gets going and there are a few more chunky exits, it’s going to become increasingly hard for folks to stay on the sidelines.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Fitness Wearable And Coaching Startup GOQii Lands $13.4M Series A From NEA And Cheetah Mobile

No comments

Wearable fitness trackers are becoming increasingly popular, but a lot of them are quickly abandoned after the novelty of tracking exercise and sleep wears off. GOQii, however, believes it has landed on the winning formula for long-term success. The Menlo Park, California and Mumbai-based company just raised a $13.4 million Series A, which it will use to expand in the U.S. and China.
Co-founder and chief executive officer Vishal Gondal says the company is already the leading fitness tracker company in India and wants to hit one million users there as soon as possible.
GOQii sells its own fitness trackers, but its main focus is a cloud-based platform that sends data to real coaches, who then provide feedback to help users meet their health goals. Subscriptions come with a free wristband, but the platform is also compatible with most major brands, including Fitbit, Jawbone, and Misfit.
The company’s Series A was led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA), with participation from Cheetah Mobile; Great Wall Club (GWC); DSG Consumer Partners; Supercell co-founder and chief executive officer Ilkka Paananen; angel investor Pravin Gandhi; and Gondal.
Gondal says that the addition of Cheetah Mobile, the Beijing-based mobile developer best known for Android utility apps like Clean Master, and GWC, a mobile company network that hosts the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC), will help it gain market share in China.
Xiaomi founder Lei Jun is also Cheetah Mobile’s chairman, but Gondal says GOQii will pursue partnerships with a wide array of Chinese companies in addition to the Mi smartphone maker.
Recent research from the International Data Corporation that says shipments of wearable devices will increase to 76.1 million units this year, a 163.9 percent jump from the to 28.9 million shipped in 2014. That figure is expected to hit 173.4 million units by 2019.
FitBit and Xiaomi are emerging as the main contenders for the high and low ends, respectively, of the fitness tracker market, however, and as recent layoffs at Jawbone underscore, the market may become increasingly competitive and difficult for smaller players.
Gondal claims GOQii’s coaching platform will give it an edge, especially since it is compatible with over 35 fitness tracker brands.
“We believe that there is an inherent flaw in the wearable market. They are trying to sell you a piece of hardware, which most people stop using in a matter of weeks or months. But GOQii flips that,” he says. “Most people have all the data they need about their health and fitness, but they don’t know what it means and that is how our coaches help them.”
Each coach welcomes users by setting up an audio or video call and then continues to give them feedback every day based on their goals (for example, losing weight or running a marathon). While the process is relatively labor-intensive, Gondal says GOQii’s platform streamlines it by using big data analytics to help coaches deliver personalized advice. Most worked with about five or 10 clients every day, but GOQii’s platform allows them to handle up to 60 to 70 users each day.
GOQii hasn’t disclosed its user metrics, but Gondal says its coaching platform enjoys strong engagement rates. The company launched its U.S. beta program in January and plans to open it to the public by the first quarter of next year.

Get Builds Mobile Apps And Handles Deliveries For Local Shops

No comments

Meet Get, a new French startup that wants to be the Shopify for small retailers on mobile among many other things. With Get, local shops like your favorite bakery can effortlessly have an app for iOS and Android. Get also provides a same-hour delivery service like Stuart.
Founded by Adrien Touati and Deezer co-founder Daniel Marhely, Get is trying to do a bit of everything as long as it’s around mobile e-commerce and small shops. There are three key components behind Get.
First, Get lets you build a white-label app in less than an hour for free. In particular, Get handles the ordering and payment parts. And this is key to understanding the startup’s strategy. Get doesn’t rely on a traditional software-as-a-service approach. You don’t have to invest tens of thousands of euros to work with an agency to build an app. Instead, Get gives you an app for free and then takes a cut on every transaction.
Second, Get is building a same-hour delivery service focused on this kind of deliveries. The company is building this service in house as it is currently recruiting runners and a runner manager on its website. Clients like Fauchon, Lavina and L’atelier de L’Éclair can work with Get to deliver anyone in Paris in less than an hour.
Third, Get is also building its own app to deliver fresh products to your doorstep by leveraging its delivery service.
You can expect to get flowers, bread, a Christmas tree, breakfast and more. It seems like Get is avoiding restaurant deliveries on purpose as this market is getting crowded.
With this three-headed strategy, Get has many bullets in the delivery wars. The white-label approach combined with the delivery service could convince many shop owners who didn’t have the time or the money to look at e-commerce option. Think about clothing, sporting goods, bakeries, butchers and more.
Get first convinces these potential clients to work with the company thanks to the free app-building tools. It can then take a significant cut of the profit with value-added services like same-hour deliveries — it’s a smart move.
The main challenge is on the consumer side. The startup needs to figure out whether people want to install a dozen different apps for each of their favorite local shops.

DJI’s Latest Drone Saves Crops From Pests

No comments

DJI made its name building high-end consumer drones, but its latest model shows where the future may lie for the Shenzhen-based company and its competitors.
An eight-rotor drone, the Agras MG-1 is supposed to provide a safer alternative to current methods for spraying crops, including small planes, vehicles, and handheld sprayers that dispense chemicals from backpacks.
DJI says that each drone can cover about seven to 10 acres of farmland in an hour.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Agras MG-1 will be priced at about $15,000 each and sold in China and South Korea first, before taking pre-orders from other countries. DJI raised $75 million from Accel earlier this year to build an ecosystem for drone software developers focusing on different industries. Two of its rivals, Yuneec and EHANG, also scored large rounds ($60 million and $42 million, respectively), to develop their drones for commercial use.

Unless you are a farmer or really hate bugs, the Agras MG-1 might not seem particularly exciting, especially when compared to all the other potential industrial uses for drones such as aerial photography or e-commerce deliveries. Agriculture, however, is expected to become one of the biggest verticals for drones.
According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, agriculture drones could eventually account for 80 percent of the total commercial drone market. Models that spray pesticide, like the Agras MG-1, are just one example of how drones can help farmers predict and control the outcome of crops. For example, drones equipped with high-resolution cameras can monitor plants for signs of disease or drought.

For the market to take off, however, companies need to find a way to make their drones attractive to farmers, who are facing increasingly tight margins. While the Agras MG-1 reduces the amount of time workers are exposed to chemicals, its covers less ground and is more expensive than current methods for spraying pesticides.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Roboroach Is Either The Best Or Worst Holiday Gift Ever

No comments

Let’s say you have a certain someone on your list who is really into biohacking. Let’s also assume you’re Ok with having discoid roaches in the house. Then also let’s assume you don’t mind people operating on those roaches on your dining room table. Have I got a Christmas gift idea for you!
We first talked about the Roboroach back in 2011 when we found the idea to be weird and repellent. Arguably the idea is still weird and repellent but it is also an incredible experiment in neuroscience and a great way to teach STEM to potentially bored kids.
What is the Roboroach? It’s a $99 kit that includes a small Bluetooth-powered chip and a mini surgery. Roaches cost extra but you can get them at a local pet store. They recommend discoid roaches which cannot fly and have a few helpful markers on their bodies to help in the surgery.

Please remember that this is not a toy. You are working on live insects here and whilethe folks who make these, BackyardBrains offers a detailed ethical statement, you have to be OK working and potentially killing a living thing. It’s a hard thing for kids to grasp and it’s also pretty gross if you’re not in the proper mindset.
To “install” it you have to insert a tiny wire lead into the roach’s wing muscle and then snip and connect leads to the roach’s antennae. The first step, however, is to glue a three-lead system to its head carapace. The process is at once precise and very imprecise. If you’re not a born surgeon you are sure to mess things up but the bug is essentially asleep during your ministrations thanks to an ice water bath that occurs after each step. This is not for the squeamish. The insertion of the leads is quite difficult the first time and the snipping of the antennae and insertion of the other two leads is quite scary. Everything is held together with super glue and a low temperature hot glue gun and the insect can survive the procedure and live a happy life after you experiment on it, dying a natural death albeit with a three-pronged lead attached to its head.
Once everything is installed you can simply connect a very small and light electrical stimulator to the bug and start sending signals.
How does it work? Again, you have to treat this like a scientific experiment. The system is not actually a remote control for a roach. It’s more like a signal generator that sends electrical pulses to the roach’s antennae. These pulses then send the roach moving either left or right, depending on the signal. This works only for a brief period and then neuroplasticity kicks in and the roach forgets the signals.
I did this with three kids ages 3, 6, and 9 and all of them were very weirded out but they all had a good time watching and talking about the experiment. Unlike, say, model rocketry this project is quite involved and quite advanced and I could definitely see some solid experiments coming from this kit and it should inspire some biologists of the future.
The Roboroach will either make perfect sense as a gift for someone on your holiday list or it will make no sense at all. Whether or not you want to put roaches under your tree is a judgement call only you can make but rest assured it’s a crazy and crazy fun way to learn about biohacking in a very real way.