Scientists have created a robot controlled by a biological brain made of rat neurons.
The robot, named Gordon, is not exactly an Einstein but represents a remarkable bridging of the gap between biology and technology. Gordon relies a dish with about 60 electrodes to pick up electrical signals generated by the brain cells.
The brain drives the robot's movements.
Every time the robot nears an object, signals are directed to stimulate the brain by means of the electrodes, the researchers explained in a statement released today by the University of Reading in England. In response, the brain's output drives the robot's wheels left and right, so that it moves around in an attempt to avoid hitting objects.
The robot has no additional control from a human or a computer, the scientists state. Its sole means of control is from its own brain.
"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 memorizes its experiences," said the university's Kevin Warwick of the School of Systems Engineering. "This research will move our understanding forward of how brains work, and could have a profound effect on many areas of science and medicine."
The researchers aim to get the robot to learn, by applying different signals as it moves into predefined positions. That might allow them to witness how memories manifest themselves in the brain when the robot revisits familiar territory. They hope the work will eventually lead to a better understanding of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke and brain injuries.
"One of the fundamental questions that scientists are facing today is how we link the activity of individual neurons with the complex behaviors that we see in whole organisms," said Ben Whalley, a pharmacist at the university and member of the team that built Gordon. "This project gives us a really unique opportunity to look at something which may exhibit complex behaviors, 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. "
The project was funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.