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Robotics Technology

Robot Controlled By Human Brain Cells 86

Posted by timothy
from the rat-is-a-pig-is-a-boy dept.
destinyland writes "There's a new experiment from the British researchers who created a robot controlled by cultured rat neurons. They're now using a line of human brain neurons to control robots. The neurons are placed onto a multi-electrode dish that registers the neurons' electric signals. 'Every time the robot nears an object, the electrodes generate signals to stimulate the brain. In response, the brain's output is used to drive the wheels of the robot left and right so that it avoids hitting objects. The robot has no additional control from a human or a computer — its sole means of control is from its own brain.'"
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Robot Controlled By Human Brain Cells

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  • Re:AI? (Score:4, Informative)

    by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:22AM (#29806787)

    we have real intelligence controlling robots. The though of someone hooking this ip to a Predator drone are scary.

    The use of human brain cells doesn't imply "real" intelligence. Computationally, this thing is vastly weaker than "traditional" (silicon) computers from 30 years ago, much less whatever is on Predators (or your iPhone) today. There isn't any pixie dust in neurons.

  • Re:bad summary? (Score:3, Informative)

    by julesh (229690) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:27AM (#29806863)

    They did the experiment with the rat cells some time ago, now they are starting to work with human cells - the article states this clearly

    Yes, but the summary doesn't. The summary says they have _done_ it. "They're now using a line of human brain neurons to control robots." No, they're working on plans and beginning experiments by which they hope, at some point in the future, to use human neurons to control robots.

    (Q: Is it a "brain neuron" if it's cultured in vitro?)

  • Re:Not too smart (Score:3, Informative)

    by sonnejw0 (1114901) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:36AM (#29806997)
    It's acting more like a diode, really, than just a wire, but yeah, you're basically on target.

    It is also plastic: i.e. the neurons are free to associate with whatever electrodes they are most attracted to, just like in a biological brain. That means that the electrodes that are most active will receive the most connections, and thus the "wires" are self constructing according to "need" (or frequency of stimulation in a molecular biology sense).
  • Re:Not too smart (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:38AM (#29807015)

    The fact is there is no signal in this system that could be used in something such as reinforcement learning. The robot has absolutely no way of knowing if hitting a wall is good or bad. So what this system actually does is show that neurons can auto-organize and produce a coherent output based on inputs such as sensors values.

    What Warwick, forgot to say is that for every robot that converges toward an object avoidance behavior there are probably 30 other robots having completely difference behaviors. Since any of these behaviors is as good as the others for the robot (remember: no reward or pain of any sort), we are just shown the behaviors that make sens to us...

  • Re:bad summary? (Score:4, Informative)

    by mcmire (1152897) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:51AM (#29807223)
    There are two experiments involved here, one using rat neurons and one using human neurons. The article is badly written -- it first introduces the two experiments, talks about the rat-neuron experiment for a bit (that's what the video refers to) and then abruptly segues to the human-neuron experiment (which there is no video for). Only the last three paragraphs are really about the human one. Looks like it's the same setup as the rat one though.
  • by Cassini2 (956052) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:33AM (#29808855)

    Doctor Who references to Robots controlled by organic brain's include:
    - Mr. Sin [bbc.co.uk], aka: the Peking Homunculus, a robot controlled by a pig's brain, from the Talon's of Weng Chiang. Mr. Sin probably matches the experiment in the article the most closely, because he was a robot controlled by a portion of an animal's brain.
    - Morbius [bbc.co.uk], from the Brain of Morbius. Does everyone remember the talking brain in a jar?
    - The Genesis of the Daleks [bbc.co.uk] shows that Dalek's are fully formed aliens and can kill people without being inside the "Travel" machines. As can be also be seen in the early episodes that "made" Doctor Who, the Daleks [bbc.co.uk].
    - The Attack of the Cyberman [bbc.co.uk] shows clearly how the Cyberman evolved by replacing body parts with metal parts, until they were just human brains controlling robots. Of course, the new series [bbc.co.uk] updates the brains in a robot with more nasty implications.
    - Master. [bbc.co.uk] In the Planet of Fire, a miniaturized Master remotely controlled the robot Chameleon.
    - Rani. [bbc.co.uk] In Time and The Rani, the Rani made a organic brain into a giant Beowulf cluster of the world's brightest minds. Her goal was to destroy the universe and a variety of other evil. Trouble ensued when the Rani realized that the Doctor was slightly crazy ...

    Other movie references are:
    - Saturn 3 [imdb.com] - a movie where someone grows a brain in a jar and puts it in an 8 foot killer robot. Oh, did I mention that the personality imprint for the brain comes from a killer?
    - Robocop [imdb.com] proof that good things could possibly happen if someone attaches a human brain to a robot, and the sequel, Robocop 2 [imdb.com], that shows bad things are what normally occur.

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