Can several hundred thousand rat neurons living in culture control the movements of a mechanical robot? Apparently to some extent so far, as researchers, including Dr. Ben Whalley, at the University of Reading have created a working “rat-brain-controlled” robot.
The controlling unit is, however, much less than that of a full rat brain, but in many respects it is actually much more interesting and exciting: the controller is a dish of rat neurons growing and interconnecting on top of an electrode array, which records electrical activity as well as electrically stimulates the cultured neuron network, and this all sits in a temperature-controlled environment in the lab safely separated from the actual robot. Wireless technology transmits the electrical information to and from from the culture and a mobile block with wheels and sonar sensors.
The electrical signals are filtered through software into movement controls for the robot. When the robot bumps into a wall, the sonar returns a signal to the culture dish to provide electrical feedback to the network. To date, the research has created a moving robot, and the team is now working to “train” the living neural network to appropriately respond to its environment… i.e., “don’t bump into the wall when you hear it coming.”
The group is particularly interested in how their basic understanding of this neural network can create memories, and how it will respond to imposed degradations of the physical network. This may lead to further clues into the progression of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Even with the focus on medical advancements for human disease, this research program at Reading is extremely exciting as a pure application of neurotechnology by working to develop a direct neuron-computer interface, and their results will be quite useful for the broader technological advancement of neurotech devices.
“Rat-brain robot aids memory study” :: BBC News :: August 13, 2008 :: [ READ with VIDEO ]
“Rat brain-controlled robot to give important neurological insights” :: The Tech Herald :: August 13, 2008 :: [ READ ]
“A ‘Frankenrobot’ with a biological brain” :: asiaone News :: August 14, 2008 :: [ READ ]