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Robotics Biotech

Ants Used For Mind-Controlled Robotic Limbs 82

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-can't-feel-my-arms dept.
mr sanjeev writes "Australian researchers are reducing the divide between science fiction and science reality by bringing the development of mind-controlled robotic limbs a few steps closer. Even the most fertile science fiction imagination might not see a link between the behavior of ant colonies and the development of lifelike robotic limbs, but that is the straightforward mathematical reality of research underway at the University of Technology, Sydney. The technology mimics the myoelectric signals used by the central nervous system (CNS) to control muscle activity. Artificial intelligence researchers have long used the complex interactions between ants to construct a pattern recognition formula to identify bioelectric signals. PhD student Rami Khushaba said 'swarm-intelligence' allows scientists to understand the body's electrical signals and use the knowledge to create a robotic prosthetic device that can be operated by human thought."
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Ants Used For Mind-Controlled Robotic Limbs

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  • by BattleApple (956701) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @11:47AM (#26060889)
    found this article very interesting
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TheLink (130905)
      Esp this part:

      "You get signals from each censor mounted on the forearm"

      The censorship level in Australia is higher than I thought :).
    • by imamac (1083405)
      I too, found it interesting. But anyone who has read "Prey", by Michael Crichton (God rest his soul) knows that we are now one step closer to being mimicked and destroyed by swarms miniature robots with swarm intelligence.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by EdZ (755139)
        Anyone who has read Prey and has a modicum of knowledge on how nanomachines actually work, however, knows that Michael Crichton doesn't know a scanning electron microscope from his own elbow. Obligatory link [nanotech-now.com].
        • by PitaBred (632671)

          Crichton created great stories and characters, but his grounding in science was tenuous at best, especially for being a doctor. None of his writings stand up to scientific scrutiny.

          • The point is, that this was not the point.
            Else he would have written a scientific paper.

            • by PitaBred (632671)

              The problem is when the layperson THINKS that it's valid science. Then you get knee-jerk retarded legislation voted through because people are stupid.

        • by imamac (1083405)
          Anyone who has read imamac's post and has a modicum of a sense of humor, however, knows that imamac was being facetious.
      • by TheLink (130905)
        Unless those nanobots have an amazing source of energy, it's going to be very hard for them to destroy us or other stuff physically - as in tear us apart, or break us down.

        If it were so simple, bacteria, fungi or insects would have consumed everything already.

        If the nanobots could "eat" us to build more nanobots, that means bacteria, fungi or insects could eat those nanobots too - unless they're doing some transmutation of elements.

        They'll have to compete with tons of stuff out there that's been "tested and
      • John Sladek's [wikipedia.org] "mechasm" was probably first, and is more amusing.
    • by Kagura (843695)

      found this article very interesting

      Thank you, sir. I still have hope for humanity after this. :)

  • by Gideon Wells (1412675) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @11:49AM (#26060923)

    Be honest, raise your hand if the first thing you thought of when seeing that title was:

    +++ Divide By Cucumber Error. Please Reinstall Universe And Reboot +++

  • Oh, so (Score:5, Funny)

    by blue l0g1c (1007517) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @11:54AM (#26061011)
    Yet another research project that needs fine ants.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now you can have a robotic limb on top of every anthill. The ants will no longer have to carry measly pieces of grains or berries back to the hill - they can work in concert and use the mighty grasp of a robotic arm. How will you compete in this brave new world, mankind?

  • Meh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy&gmail,com> on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @11:55AM (#26061027) Journal

    The problem is, they spend so much time trying to get it to interface with the nerves in the same way as the original limb. Ideally, sure, we'd like it to go that way. But that's a long way off.

    If they could just get it to read some signals, any signals, the methods for controlling it could be learned by the recipient.

    Humans are born with the capability of mastering our limbs; fine motor coordination isn't something we're born with, it's learned. Why try to write software to do that?

    • Re:Meh. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by tristanreid (182859) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @12:55PM (#26062035)

      I agree completely. Trying to calibrate to the specific signals from the human brain is solving the wrong problem. The most awesome capability that our brains have is the ability to adapt. Spend more time on processing the signals in the arm-end for execution, and in sending tactile feedback signals back. It might be nearly impossible for a person to use for a while, but once the brain figures it out and starts rerouting itself, it will seem perfectly natural.

      An analogy: if you have a car, and you're trying to build a better road, you should focus on improving the surface of the road, not on a mechanism that reaches up to help push the car along. The "move the car" problem is sufficiently solved that your efforts will probably just get in the way.

      -t.

    • > Humans are born with the capability of mastering our limbs; fine motor coordination isn't something we're born with, it's learned. Why try to write software to do that?

      Perhaps because a flailing arm dope slap with a flesh-and-blood limb can hurt, a flailing arm dope slap with a prosthetic limb can hurt LOTS.

    • by AceJohnny (253840)

      Humans are born with the capability of mastering our limbs; fine motor coordination isn't something we're born with, it's learned. Why try to write software to do that?

      Because that capability is mostly lost after your very young age. The brain loses plasticity, it can't rewire itself as easily when you're grown up.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jvkjvk (102057)

        Bah. Your comment is old and outdated, except in the general sense.

        Yes, it is not as easy for older people to learn (rewire). That doesn't mean it is impossible, or even *that hard*.

        We also used to think that the body never grew any new brain cells. Now we know that's incorrect, too.

        The adult human brain is much more plastic than your comment seems to imply.

      • by PitaBred (632671)

        My Grandpa learned how to play Sudoku before he died. You don't absorb as quickly as a younger person, but it most certainly is possible, and it has been shown to be very beneficial for the health of older people to keep learning and keep an active mind.

        • ...You don't absorb as quickly as a younger person,...

          This is said quite often, but I propose that perhaps people just have a perception that young people learn faster, because one becomes more aware of the passage of time as one gets older. It takes newborns around a year before they have any mobility, and even longer before they start to begin to speak.

    • by Kyle3om (1421333)
      At birth you have many more neurons than are needed for motor control and they are indeed fine tuned for coordination, but in adults there is far less plasticity in neuron growth/death. If you read the article it says a big part of what they are doing is determining best position for electrode placement. Well this isn't wholely different than what any other research lab does. The method being used it was makes this article unique otherwise we have monkeys trained to use robotic limbs with their thoughts rig
    • Because learning things sucks and I would rather have a computer do it for me?

      Capcha: Biology

  • by Technopaladin (858154) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @11:59AM (#26061095)
    Hope they use Army ants or Fire ants. Robots that destroy everyting in their path or squirt acid cocktails would freaking rock. THe first 2 prosthetics available sould be Mandibles and stingers. then they can branch out into other insectoid robot prosthetics like Pinchers, Scorpion tails and wings. I forsee a bold new future.
  • by Churla (936633) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @12:02PM (#26061139)

    Question is who will be the first to reverse engineer their prosthetic arm to control ants instead?

  • This experiment was performed in the High Energy Magic building, wasn't it? /Anthill Inside
  • by olddotter (638430) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @12:10PM (#26061315) Homepage

    http://inttech.blogspot.com/2008/11/sci-fi-and-real-science-collide.html [blogspot.com]

    Yes real science and Sci-Fi are colliding. This research can have amazing benefits for people suffering from a wide range of conditions and limb loss.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... if your foot falls asleep, it feels like there's ants running around on it?

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @12:17PM (#26061415)

    I'm looking forward to the day when I can crush someone's throat with the power of my evil bionic hand. Until then, I'll just have to choke them by roasting habanero peppers in a dry skillet.

    I wonder how long it'll take for artificial limbs to become perfect substitutes, the kind of thing you can even forget you have. My glasses are so much a part of me and so light, I could easily forget I'm wearing them aside from the bit about things not being blurry. I wonder what it would take for an artificial hand to be good enough to play piano, type on a keyboard, providing perfect sensory feedback and accuracy.

    What's the hard part about wiring the limbs up to the nerves? I remember reading about a special adhesive developed that could be sticky on one end for nerves, a proper digital interface on the other side, and the signals would be transmitted properly.

    • by drspliff (652992)

      I presume it wouldn't need to provide perfect sensory feedback, the way we adapt to use new tools which essentially extend our own hands and become a part of our body means that they just have to be good enough to provide the basic functions and we'll work out how to use it best.

      For example if you removed a finger and placed it in the palm of the hand, even if it's sense was extremely numbed you would eventually learn to make good use of it (as has been shown with everybody who's had limbs removed or relies

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @02:24PM (#26063381) Homepage

      I wonder what it would take for an artificial hand to be good enough to play piano, type on a keyboard

      Or, masturbate.

      Come on, we're all thinking it. ;-)

      Cheers

      • You could give yourself a hand with a vagina like hole in the palm, for example. You could learn how to open it with thought or manipulate it in other ways and it'd also be useful for holding random things like your phone rather than putting it down, picking something else up, moving that, putting it down and then picking your original item up.

        These types of mind-controlled prosthesis are just the beginning. When we know how to link mechanical devices to our brains we can start using alternative limbterface

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          These types of mind-controlled prosthesis are just the beginning. When we know how to link mechanical devices to our brains we can start using alternative limbterfaces (just coined that one!) and training ourselves to use those instead of our familiar arms and legs.

          I for one welcome our new limbterface overlords. :-P

          It might be jarring to start seeing people with strange limb configurations, let alone additions for self gratification -- nobody would shake your hand for instance.

          Besides, I should think that

          • And, who is going to ask their doctor for the Wank-Master 9000 upgrade for their prosthetic? I mean, a vagina in the middle of your palm?

            What, you think people have shame?! Believe me, my friend, they do not. Lack of shame is practically considered a virtue in modern Western society.
      • Actually, I wasn't, until you said it. Now I can't get the image out of my brain. Damn you!

    • by tim447 (552776)
      Wouldn't sticky on one end for nerves involve bare nerve endings? That prosthetic had damn well better not need to be removed ever...
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paratrechina_species_near_pubens [wikipedia.org]
    As long as they aren't these then they probably will be ok.
  • by SnarfQuest (469614) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @12:27PM (#26061593)

    Does it stop working if they remove the teddy bear?

  • As a smart consumer, I'll be sure to look for the artificial limb carrying the "Anthill Inside" sticker.
  • "Even the most fertile science fiction imagination might not see a link between the behavior of ant colonies and the development of lifelike robotic limbs" The author clearly hasn't read Jeff Noon's excellent book (although it's termites in it's case)
  • That for me means somewhere in the 250-255 milliseconds range, which is still a quarter of a second. That doesn't seem particularly fast to me. Not fast enough for driving or catching falling objects, for example. True cyborg implants are still some way away in the future.
    • by WAG24601G (719991)

      Not fast enough for driving or catching falling objects

      Well, that depends on how far these objects are falling :)

      As for driving, it might be more plausible than you think. A full reaction-time circuit (sensory->cognitive->motor) takes in the neighborhood of 200ms for most folks anyway. Certainly this is considerably slower, but probably not less than 1/3 speed. Impaired driving? Yes. Moreso than the elderly or others with normal reaction time handicaps? Maybe not.

  • Just had a thought: It must be difficult to program the artificial limb to respond to the correct signals. If you told me to flex a specific muscle, I'd actually have a pretty hard time isolating it and doing it. If I no longer had the muscle in question, it would be even harder. It makes me wonder, is that really how the nervous system works? Maybe we don't have a 'wire' from the brain to each muscle, we instead have a set of motions that we perform, each involving several muscles. Our brains can decide

  • My Aunt is Mormon, they have been using Mind control for years.
  • Who will lead the fight in liberating the ant slaves from their amputee masters?

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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