Biology and Robotics – Robot Controlled With Rat Brain Cells – 11009

AFTER buttoning up a lab coat, snapping on surgical gloves and spraying them with alcohol, I am deemed sanitary enough to view a robot’s control system up close. Without such precautions, any fungal spores on my skin could infect it. “We’ve had that happen. They just stop working and die off,” says Mark Hammond, the system’s creator.

This is no ordinary robot control system – a plain old microchip connected to a circuit board. Instead, the controller nestles inside a small pot containing a pink broth of nutrients and antibiotics. Inside that pot, some 300,000 rat neurons have made – and continue to make – connections with each other.

How Does it Work ?

Nextworld: Rat Brain Controlled Robots

Kevin Lounsberry:

I would give my every possession to become a cyborg (though it might cost a bit more than that) chances are I could get it all back no sweat if I get good improvements. Imagine having things like built in like night vision or zooming or ultraviolet. Imagine it not even being possible to flinch and make a mistake with your hands. imagine the possibility of extra storage space for your memory, or removable drives.


Walking Around on the Floor

This robot is controlled by the brain of a rat – making it the world’s first cyborg rodent.

Rat’s ‘brain’ used to power robot

A robot has been created which is powered by a rat’s “brain”.

By Kate Devlin –  13 Aug 2008

Electrical signals from rat cells have been harnessed to drive the robot, which is on wheels, around a laboratory. By stimulating certain responses within the cells scientists have even been able to make the robot, or “animat”, move. The “brain” is actually rat brain tissue which has been artificially grown in a lab.

The scientists at Reading University hope that they can use the machine to understand more about how our brains work, and even to develop treatments for diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease.

To create the machine scientists first grew rat nerve cells in a laboratory. These cells connect with each other, sending signals within around 24 hours. After a week the scientists can detect activity similar to brain activity. Within two or three weeks the cells can be hooked up to the robot. The team uses bluetooth technology, which allows them to send communication without the use of wires. Scientists can also use sonar signals to cause the robot to swerve to avoid a wall, by triggering different signals in the “brain”, reports New Scientist magazine.

The robots currently turn eight out of 10 times, but Professor Kevin Warwick, head of cybernetics at Reading University, who led the study, said that figure could increase substantially. He said: “[The animat] is actively learning. “The signals and the pathways are strengthening as each action gets repeated.” Prof Warwick said he believed that eventually the robot would turn 100 per cent of the time. He also hopes to use the animat to try to understand more about how the brain works, for example how it remembers things, by capturing the signals.

However, these “brains” have a limited lifespan and currently live for only around three months, as long as they are regularly fed in temperature controlled incubators. Prof Steve Potter, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, who has been involved in similar technology involving animals and robots, said that it was clear that brain cells have “evolved to reconnect under almost any circumstance that doesn’t kill them.”

Robot powered by rat’s brain in bizarre British experiment

It sounds like something out of a science fiction film, but British scientists have created a biological robot controlled by a blob of rat brain. The wheeled machine is wirelessly linked to a bundle of neurons kept at body temperature in a sterile cabinet. Signals from the ‘brain‘ allow the robot to steer left or right to avoid objects in its path. Researchers at the University of Reading are now trying to ‘teach’ the robot to become familiar with its surroundings. They hope the experiment will show how memories manifest themselves in nerve connections as the robot revisits territory it has been to before.

Scientists in other parts of the world are also developing robots with living brains made from cultured cells. At the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, US researchers have built a similar mobile machine. New Scientist magazine reported that the US team was training their robot as if it was an animal learning tricks.

The British research is led by Professor Kevin Warwick, who has pioneered the merging of biology and robotics by conducting bizarre ‘cyborg‘ experiments on himself. One involved embedding a microchip into the nerves of his left arm that allowed him to control an electric wheelchair and artificial hand.

The Reading robot’s brain consists of a small pot containing some 300,000 rat neurons. After first being disconnected, the nerves were then encouraged to make new connections with each other in a continuing process. The complex way neurons connect and ‘talk’ to each other is fundamental to how an organic brain works. Electrodes attached to the neural network allow sensory and command signals in and out of the brain. The robot has just one means of sensing its surroundings, an ultrasound probe that bounces sound waves off objects. If the sensor detects a wall in its path, a signal is sent to the brain through a Bluetooth radio link. The brain then replies with another message telling the robot to steer away from the obstacle.

The team is now moving away from this simple system and getting the robot to learn how to navigate. Eventually the robot will be able to recognise familiar surroundings it has memorised. Another aspect of the research is achieving a better understanding of conditions that affect the brain such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and strokes. Prof Warwick said: ‘This new research is tremendously exciting as firstly the biological brain controls its own moving robot body, and secondly it will enable us to investigate how the brain learns and memorises its experiences.

‘This research will move our understanding forward of how brains work, and could have a profound effect on many areas of science and medicine.’ Colleague Dr Ben Whalley, from the university’s School of Pharmacy, said: ‘One of the fundamental questions that scientists are facing today is how we link the activity of individual neurons with the complex behaviours that we see in whole organisms. ‘This project gives us a really unique opportunity to look at something which may exhibit complex behaviours, but still remain closely tied to the activity of individual neurons. ‘Hopefully we can use that to go some of the way to answer some of these very fundamental questions.’

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