This small robot is controlled entirely by lab grown rat brain cells. The team grows neurons on an electrode array, which via wireless (bluetooth) communication receives signals from the robot’s ultrasonic sensors. The rat neurons then process that information and send a signal back to control the robot’s movement.
When the neurons that connect together both sides of the electrodes first receive signals from the robot’s ultrasonic sensors, they do not always respond well. With time and ‘practice’, the neurons begin to form stronger pathways. These stronger pathways result in the robot learning to avoid walls. According to the video each brain lasts a few months and is unique. Some brains are better than others or behave differently. Fascinating!
The next step is to increase the amount of neurons in the brain from roughly 100,000 to 30 million by creating a 3D-array of cells. Further research also includes using human brain cells!
Using human brain cells brings up important ethical questions. What constitutes a person? If a ‘human’ brain can be created in the lab using genetically human materials, with human characteristics, thoughts, and personality, should it be its own legal person? If a future ‘robot’ is exactly like a human in every way, is it not actually a human?
Kevin Warwick at University of Reading is the man behind this project. He is known for other robotics and cyborg projects, including implanting both a RFID chip and electrodes to control a robotic hand remotely!
Here is an excerpt from his website:
Kevin Warwick is Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, England, where he carries out research in artificial intelligence, control, robotics and biomedical engineering. He is a Chartered Engineer (CEng.) and is a Fellow of The Institution of Engineering & Technology (FIET). He is the youngest person ever to become a Fellow of the City & Guilds of London Institute (FCGI). Source: http://www.kevinwarwick.com/
We will be keeping a close eye on his future work.