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Robotics Biotech Technology

Rat-Brained Robots Take Their First Steps 289

Posted by timothy
from the aside-from-snow-crash-and-politics dept.
missb writes "Brain tissue cultured from rats has controlled a wheeled robot around a lab, according to New Scientist this week. Researchers in the UK have harnessed signals from thousands of disembodied rat neurons, and manipulated them to get a robot to respond to instructions. The team at the University of Reading in the UK hope their research will help provide treatments for diseases like Alzheimer's and epilepsy."
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Rat-Brained Robots Take Their First Steps

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  • What in the... (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @02:58PM (#24588009)

    Am I the only one who fails to see how these rodent zombie robots have anything to do with Alzheimer's?

  • "The team at the University of Reading in the UK hope their research will help provide treatments for diseases like Alzheimer's and epilepsy."

    That outcome is very much exaggerated, apparently to try to get more attention. Any such result would depend on other huge advancements not yet made.
  • Er.. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by AlterRNow (1215236) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:02PM (#24588091)

    Something is amiss with this. I can understand the robot reacting to the "signals" from the neurons but.. how do the neurons know where the walls are? I would imagine that 3,000 neurons isn't enough to parse any input it is being provided ( ultra-sound by the looks of it ) let alone figure out which direction to move in to avoid them.

  • Re:What in the... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by juiceboxfan (990017) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:05PM (#24588143)

    Am I the only one who fails to see how these rodent zombie robots have anything to do with Alzheimer's?

    Obviously, you get more funding if you include a hot research topic in the project description.

  • Re:What in the... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Normal Dan (1053064) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:05PM (#24588145)
    Researchers were all like, "Hey, let's build a robot with a rat brain, that will be fun!" But then one of them said, "But how will we fund this pointless yet awesome endeavor?". To that the reply was, "umm... let's just tell everyone it'll help cure Alzheimer's or epilepsy or autism or something, they'll have to fund it then."
  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:07PM (#24588165) Journal
    It was the whoosh of grant money going down the drain.

    This work will hopefully contribute to our knowledge of how brains work, but its potential should not be exaggerated, says Potter. "This system is a model. Everything it does is merely similar to what goes on in a brain, it's not really the same thing. We can learn about the brain - but it may mislead us."

    What? Is he serious, making a statement like that? Does he think grants grow on trees, that he can so blithely disregard the opportunity for sensationalistic coverage and the resultant exposure to those who issue private grants? Sure, Alzheimer's is mentioned, which is a nice hook, but he needs to make ridiculous claims in order to break through the wall of grant-deniers.

    Sheesh. What is the academic world coming to, that they make responsible statements regarding their research?

  • Re:Obligatory.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:08PM (#24588177) Journal
    What exactly would robots with rat brains want to do, since they can't do any of their natural biological functions?
  • by gedhrel (241953) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:11PM (#24588217)

    Hugely inflated claims? From Captain Cyborg? To generate press attention?

    Film, as they say, at eleven.

  • Re:What in the... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:12PM (#24588237) Journal

    Am I the only one who fails to see how these rodent zombie robots have anything to do with Alzheimer's?

    Perhaps you could try RTFAing, then applying some logical thought.

    They're studying how disassociated nerons make new connections and can be trained to reliably respond to stimuli, and how that response can be used to create predictable behavior.

    Now go ahead STFW for the pathophysiology of Alzheimers, and it's pretty easy to see how this could be useful in understanding Alzheimers, and perhaps in (eventually, with a lot of steps inbetween) help either prevent it, delay its onset, or reverse it.

  • Cool name (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:18PM (#24588343)

    "Rat-Brained Robots" would make a good name for a punk band.

  • by colmore (56499) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:22PM (#24588415) Journal

    Does anyone else out there take science fiction just a *little* bit seriously and think that some of the robotics innovations over the past 10 or 15 years might be a little bit dangerous?

    AI is actually a little bit impressive, there just isn't a market for it yet.

  • by thedonger (1317951) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:31PM (#24588563)
    Right. We try to develop something in a few years that took a hundred million years to evolve and expect that if we manage to duplicate it somehow it will be totally benign?
  • by thedonger (1317951) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:34PM (#24588623)
    And don't forget Asimov and other sci-fi writers were thinking of these implications half a century ago and more. Is this life imitating art?
  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:34PM (#24588631)
    They put a 1V signal in and find a place where a 100mV signal shows itself and take that as an output. That is then used to stimulate the robot platform's turning logic.

    A random bag of paper clips would do the same.

    Call me back when they have decision making.

  • House of Mirrors (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:41PM (#24588773)

    For all we really know, we are nothing more then an AI experiment.

  • by OxFF52 (1126819) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:46PM (#24588847)

    I found this article... then checked Slashdot.

    Where have all the intelligent slashdotters gone? Let's all STOP trying to come up with the funniest one-liner and talk about the subject at hand here.

    They have taken brain cells and taught them to control a robot. This is simply freakin' astounding!

    What else has been done related to this such as MEMS? Anyone?

  • Re:What in the... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @03:48PM (#24588885) Journal
    Well, the robot in this case performs two functions: one is to provide the stimuli, one is to measure the response. It's a machine capable of locomotion.

    The reason for the bluetooth is because the braincell broth needs to be maintained at a certain temperature and kept stable, and wireless is probably the best way to make sure the robot doesn't damage the brain cells or upset their alignment, say by jerking on an electrode tether.

    I see your point, it does seem awfully gimmicky... but the nice thing about it is that it is modular. Their "sensory" system can be swapped out easily for additonal experiments.
  • by jacquesm (154384) <j@ww.3.14159com minus pi> on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:01PM (#24589053) Homepage

    I for one am sick and tired of researchers hijacking Alzheimers and other diseases to legitimize their work.

    Even if your work is not even remotely related just mentioning that one day maybe you will possibly contribute a tiny little bit then everybody will give you all the news coverage you could possibly want.

  • by blincoln (592401) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:04PM (#24589093) Homepage Journal

    What if the damned thing exhibits delta waves at some point?

    I was also thinking along those lines. Since this research uses fetal brain tissue, the animal (or potentially human) brain cells can't really remember being anything else, but it's still pretty eerie trying to imagine what the experience would be like if there were enough cells (however many that is) for consciousness.

    I think there are some amazing potential applications for this type of research, but I also have a feeling that eventually someone is going to create an experimental cyborg like this and realize that it's trying to howl in terror and/or commit suicide.

  • by RecycledElectrons (695206) on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @04:19PM (#24589313)

    I suggest you check out SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson.

    Fido is a good puppy and a pit bull terrier known as a "Rat Thing" by others. He's a biologically-brained robotic guard dog that does bad things to bad people, as he should.

    Andy Out!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 13, 2008 @10:17PM (#24593643)

    Vivisection is sick and should be stopped. We don't condone the "research" nazis did on jews. When will animals have any rights on this planet? When will the torture stop?

  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Thursday August 14, 2008 @09:28AM (#24598077) Journal
    "What is wrong is Slashdot carrying a lot of stories about fake science that happens to want investors.

    This site is about the comments. The articles feed the debates, sometimes science is seen as crap and sometimes it's the other way around. I know of no other place where after the initial mod frenzy settles can you find such an array of both proffesional and amature experts commenting on the internet equivalent of the "science" section in a global newsagent. All other science orientated boards I know of are either special interest or have crappy moderation/threading systems.

    Your sig talks about the importance of knowing the meaning of science and you mention fake science in you post. I can think of no better tool for quickly determing the difference than to have the issue posted on slashdot and subsequently fiercly debated over the next 24hrs by hundreds of geeks and moderated/read by hundreds of thousands more geeks many of them who indeed know the meaning of science, law, economics, maths, philosphy, etc.

    If all you do on slashdot is post your opinion or RTFA then you are missing the point, wether by design or accident it serves the role of skeptic to your own assumptions about what appears in the press. Outright lies, voodoo and sock-puppets are pounced apon, for the rest of the articles the moderated version is rarely clear cut, sometimes biased, always informative, and often humorous.

    In otherwords if you cannot understand that a story about rat brained robots was just made for slashdot then I think it's time to hand in your geek card.
  • by HerbanLegend (758842) on Thursday August 14, 2008 @05:34PM (#24606455) Homepage

    Tell that to Percy Julian, or the Australian scientist whose discovery of early human specimens was brushed aside in favor of Piltdown Man essentially because nobody in Britain could stomach a human origin that was non-European. Now, those mistakes have been corrected, but it sometimes takes a lifetime or two, and that is significant.

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