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Robotics Technology

Robot Controlled By Human Brain Cells 86

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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  • I always figured we'd be OK. Rats only attack if they're scared right? But people...oh God! Just what we need, a robot that thinks it'd be funny to be a zombie.
    • It could think it is funny to be a ninja!

      But don't worry, the Pirates will take care of this robot either way.

      • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )

        Better get some monkeys to take care of the pirates.

        • Cyborg pirate monkeys. Now look what you have done! Our society will be overtaken by them.
          • Cyborg pirate monkeys. Now look what you have done! Our society will be overtaken by them.

            No we'll be ok because when winter comes they'll all freeze.

    • This would be a GREAT zombie decoy!

      Smells like human brains, tastes like human brains, runs away to attract attention...

      What more could the fragments of humanity hope for to save them from the impending global zombie domination?

      • What more could the fragments of humanity hope for to save them from the impending global zombie domination?

        Indeed! I think this is an EXCELLENT idea. EX... EX...


        - Davros

    • ... unless the robot happens to be drunk. Think about it .. an army of drunk robots with lasers.

  • Is this the first step to building a Homeworld-style spaceship?
  • bad summary? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thornburg ( 264444 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:08AM (#29806617)

    Is it just me, or do the video and article both CLEARLY state that it's rat brain cells, not human brain cells?

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

      by Hitman_Frost ( 798840 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:10AM (#29806647)

      Blame Kevin Warwick.

      He's always exaggerating his claims, including his "I'm a cyborg" nonsense.

    • 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 gijoel ( 628142 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:08AM (#29806623)
    Ex-TeR-MiN-AtE! Ex-TeR-MiN-AtE!
  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

    Wow, instead of artificial intelligence controlling humans via brain implants (perhaps to take over part of a damaged brain), we have real intelligence controlling robots. The though of someone hooking this ip to a Predator drone are scary.

    Of course, we already have robots controlled by human brains -- all robots are in some way. This is different; scarily different.

    • 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.

      • then what's that stuff that comes out my head when I sneeze?

        Are you telling me that's NOT pixie dust?!

        I thought I'd just not used enough... and I can't test it any more as my cousin doesn't want me anywhere near her kid after the whole window thing...

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        There isn't any pixie dust in neurons.

        There isn't any intelligence or emotion in bits, either. Brains aren't computers, and computers don't think. Whoever decided to call computers "thinking machines" back when a pocket calculator that took a 3 story building to house and was called a "computer" and a "thinking machine" should have been bitchslapped.

    • Today's xkcd:

      http://xkcd.com/652/ [xkcd.com]


  • I for one... (Score:1, Redundant)

    by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 )
    ... welcome out new object-avoiding human-brain-controlled robotic overlords.

    If they can manage to avoid avoiding things for long enough to usurp control from those who can recognise the seat of power... And sit in it.
  • Ok, let's say I attack four wheels and a computer to a standard kitchen dish. Then I put a human brain in the dish.

    Does it count as brain controlled robot if I make the robot turn left if the brain's temperature is an even number and right if it's odd?

    • Wouldn't that just make the robot zigzag until the brain reached room temperature?

    • It depends, if the brain matter catches on and starts varying its temperature slightly to turn, depending on sensor input, then yes you have a brain controlled robot.
    • Re:Does it count? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sonnejw0 ( 1114901 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:32AM (#29806931)
      Ahh, I see you're a materialist at heart. This is true of a fully human brain as well: an action potential is just a response to a molecular-mechanical stimulus that opens ion channels to change the polarity of the neuron. What makes a human "brain" controlled?

      Truth is, there's nothing special about this robot. It basically uses rat neuron cells to propogate an electrical signal instead of full-length wires. But if you believe that, then you also believe there's nothing special about the human brain. It just responds to environmental stimuli in a predictable, yet seemingly complex way. Big deal.
    • More importantly, Does it blend?
  • Not too smart (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:24AM (#29806811)
    Since the cells are not connected to the motors directly, there must be some other electronics involved. Since there is no mention of learning, and the behavior seems consistent, we should raise the suspicion that the neurons are acting like nothing more than wires. Or is this a case of interesting work being dumbed down for a YouTube clip?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sonnejw0 ( 1114901 )
      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: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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

      • by tibman ( 623933 )

        I agree, but at first my thoughts were he tailored the response. I mean that the cells responded to input by changing their output, yes.. but he decided to say "when the output changes, that means turn". No matter what, there is no way the cells are directly controlling the motors. That output has to be filtered/modified/interpreted somehow.

    • It would be interesting to see if changing the format of the input or output with random neuron mixes would cause different behaviors.

    • by KalvinB ( 205500 )

      The sensors simply send a signal into the "brain." The "brain" consistently reacts by creating a reaction signal based on the input signal. That reaction signal is then used to determine which input signal was used. The "brain" is just used as a layer between the sensors and the motors. It's like using MD5 strings to control a device. The sensors encrypt data as MD5 and then the MD5 string is used rather than the raw sensor data.

      The value of this is in figuring out how we can poke the brain and interpr

  • The dish is, I assume, named "Donovan"? Or was that the name of the cell donor?

  • This reminds me of the Genesis of the Daleks...
    Will Davros be next?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Cassini2 ( 956052 )

      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

  • 790 (Score:2, Funny)

    by morgauxo ( 974071 )
    790 is that you?
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And is that... my beloved, darling... morgauxo?

  • So this eventually could lead to new senses [slashdot.org]? Wonder how the brain will behave having remote senses inputs and actions, like having a new arm, but far (?) apart from your body. And which area of the brain will be used for this, if ever tried/used with humans.
  • by RandCraw ( 1047302 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:02AM (#29807361)

    In 1998, Kevin Warwick implants a trivial RF resonator in his arm (the sticky plastic strip that warns Walmart that someone is stealing a pair of socks). He contacts the press, calls himself a cyborg, and gets tenure at Reading U.

    In 2001, he replaces his implant with an RFID tag, and calls the press again, and says, "Look at me, look at me! Now I'm an ACTIVE cyborg!" And he becomes a full professor at Reading U.

    And now Warwick gets 300,000 neurons to produce a simple binary response (go straight vs turn). He calls the press again, and says, "Look at what I can do just by waving my arm".

    Jackass. Worse, the media can't tell the difference between poseurs like him and real scientists like Sebastian Thrun or Rod Brooks.

    • Whenever I get in a car I make use of my own brain-cell-controlled-robot. Just by thinking, I initiate a process that results in the car turning to the left (and right). It can even stay within the lines on the road. And it's all controlled by brain cells. Where's my fame?
  • Just A Few Thoughts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:17AM (#29807593) Journal

    (pun unintended, and frankly not very funny, so forget it; same for that pun)

    1. The magazine h+ senior editor is RU Sirius. It is MONDO 2000, +20. Sirius is still Sirius, and seems to have foregone the +20 himself. He's actually no slouch, so when he senior-editorizes a magazine full of pseudoscience crap when he could have done better or at least different, I feel he's earned the right to the criticism rather than the fiction writers working as science article journalists. They start stupid, work stupid and produce stupid. He approves it for publication.

    2. Other articles in the magazine are equally absurd. Some make claims about specific phenomena or theories which are anywhere from fraudulent to simply goofy. I took one such article, claiming that depression is lack of "fun" to task over at The Daily Grail. The article is just bullshit in its best parts. There's worse.

    3. Using neurons in this design is enormously overly complex. There was an article in SciAm in which little battery powered cars were given photo-cells or photo-resistive cells as "eyes", those driving the back wheels on the same side, or on the other side, making 4 different designs that react to light. They approach fast and slow down, or slowly at first then rush in, or they zoom away and orbit the edges slowly or else creep away and at the outer area zoom around. The anthromorphization of their actions is multiplied when many of each 'species' are placed on th same floor with protruding light bulbs at several locations. It's not that the neurons don;t do the job, it's just that they're a computational device based far beyond the need, and that non-computational, analog increasing/decreasing voltage circuits do much more for much less.

    4. Given the falsification of a different h+ article of equally strong claims, I serious(!)ly doubt the existence of the items in TFA. In fact I wouldn't believe anything I read in this magazine, if for no other reason than that the New Agey products in the ads are, while absurd themselves, more believable than the articles.

  • Not a robot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AP31R0N ( 723649 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:29AM (#29807789)

    If it's being controlled, it's not a robot. It's a car for rat brain cells. It's not following a program, it's being steered. While we're at it, the battle bots/robot wars are not robots either. They are remote controlled cars with weapons and armor. My car is not a robot just because it is a machine. If i attach some kind of Myth Busters control system... it's still not a robot. Until it's driving itself, it ain't a robot.

    Also: a robot is an android IFF is is human shaped. T1000, C3P0 - Yes. R2D2 - No.

    i think a show about ACTUAL ROBOTS hunting each other down would be way cooler. i'd have a category for 'Onboard Brain' and another for 'Remote Brain'. Maybe categories for environment: Water, Air, Land. Then maybe size class. It would be nerdgasmic.

  • Finally (Score:4, Funny)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:42AM (#29807961)
    Couple this with the "Robotic hand that can feel", and you got all the ingredients necessary for the first robotic sexual harassment lawsuit!
  • This would make a great movie plot, where they have this robot that is controlled by human brains, like 3 of them or so, in a jar.

    But one of the brains would accidentally have been from a psychotic mass murderer instead of some great scientist as they expected. An thus the robot could wreck havoc on, like, a spaceship or space station or something.

    I bet I could sell this for a fortune!
  • The creature with the atom brain
    The creature with the atom brain
    why is he acting so strange
    do you think he’s one of them
    he threw the doll right down
    ripped its guts off and threw it on the ground

    The creature with the atom brain
    the creature with the atom brain

    I told you I’d come back. Remember Buchanan?
    But you’re not Buchanan!
    I don’t look like him but I am him. Don’t you recognize my voice, Jim?
    I promised to see you die and I will.

    Hey boss. let us in! Hey boss, let
  • during a zombie infestation. Braaaiiinss! Robot Braaaiiiinnsss!
  • This can't turn out well [imdb.com].

    Unless it's for a sexbot, of course.

    Oh, wait. Even just a few human brain cells are enough to know to steer clear of the oddness of nerds.

  • by grking ( 965233 )
    I for one bow down before our new rat overlords.
  • by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:27AM (#29808715)

    What does the brain do in this robot? It sounds like all data processing and decision making is done on silicon with the brain along for the ride.

    Headline should be "Rat nerve cells get ride around lab in little cart."

  • Our robot overlords are not going to be very happy with us when we started them out on rat brain cells as training wheels.
  • And you thought it was bad when they only gnawed through wood!

  • known robots controlled by human brain cells ?
  • This is one way to get to AI that we KNOW will (eventually) work. Develop a life support system, and build bigger and bigger computers that rely on human neurons in a tank. We KNOW that a big enough system using human neurons (if given just the right signals) develops sentience. The eventual goal would be to create a being that needed many, many more neurons than a human being, wired heavily with electrodes and computer driven help. Such an "artificial intelligence" would be educated about how it was cr

There's no such thing as a free lunch. -- Milton Friendman