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Robotics Biotech United Kingdom Hardware

Robot Controlled By Rat Brain 170

kkleiner writes "Kevin Warwick, once a cyborg and still a researcher in cybernetics at the University of Reading, has been working on creating biological neural networks that can control machines. He and his team have taken the brain cells from rats, cultured them, and used them as the guidance control circuit for simple wheeled robots. Electrical impulses from the bot enter the batch of neurons, and responses from the cells are turned into commands for the device. The cells can form new connections, making the system a true learning machine."
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Robot Controlled By Rat Brain

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  • by chemicaldave ( 1776600 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:16AM (#33822976)
    Brain cells, and an entire brain (especially a mammal's) are two separate beasts.
  • Re:Creepy. (Score:3, Informative)

    by ByOhTek ( 1181381 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:24AM (#33823028) Journal

    My rat leaped down from just about anywhere when I had a pet - that wouldn't have stopped her.

    I miss my rat now...

  • by ChrisCampbell47 ( 181542 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:32AM (#33823102)

    Guy Ben-Ary is an artist who did a residency at the SymbioticA Research Lab at the University of Western Australia and then at the Potter Lab at Georgia Tech. During that time he created a system where a culture of rat brain neurons controlled a robotic pen controller to draw "art". Further, the two components (brain and arm) were geographically separated and communicated across the internet.

    MEART: The Semi Living Artist [] []

  • Re:Sentient cells? (Score:5, Informative)

    by EdZ ( 755139 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:34AM (#33823116)
    It's a SLNN (Self-Learning Neural Network) with actual neurons rather than virtual ones. You don't 'program' the cells, you provide inputs and 'reward' the correct output to those inputs, and let the neurons iteratively learn the correct weights in between.
  • by pinkushun ( 1467193 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:55AM (#33823298) Journal

    Technically, even a screw is considered a machine []. Everything more complex and more functional than a screw should then also be a machine, regardless if it contains biomass. No?

  • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

    by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnu p . net> on Thursday October 07, 2010 @09:05AM (#33823392) Homepage

    Wait, he used to be a cyborg and then decided a change of career was in order?!

    Kevin Warwick is a fanatical self-publicist. He implanted a chip in his arm, which was able to read nervous signals and forward them to a computer, whereby he could operate robot arms etc. By virtue of that, he proclaimed himself a cyborg. You can buy his book about it, "I, Cyborg" if you really want to.

  • by wisdom_brewing ( 557753 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @09:08AM (#33823428) Homepage
    You post that having misunderstood it... A screw jack is a machine according to their definition. A screw is not.

    "Machine: an assemblage of parts that transmit forces, motion and energy in a predetermined manner."

    A screw is a part, not an assemblage of parts.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 07, 2010 @09:13AM (#33823478)

    A pacemaker doesn't make you a cyborg.

    Instead, if it's under your control, or connected to your nervous system to feed information, that would make you a cyborg.

  • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnu p . net> on Thursday October 07, 2010 @09:14AM (#33823488) Homepage

    I followed some links. []

    The cells are harvested from a rat foetus. They're grown in a special vessel, where they're in contact with an array of electrodes. They spontaneously arrange themselves into a neural network. The difficult part is training that network to do anything useful.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Informative)

    by gtall ( 79522 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @09:22AM (#33823566)

    Over at TheRegister, he's known as Captain Cyborg. They appear to have stopping putting up articles about him. I sorely miss reading about the insane antics of the Captain.

  • by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnu p . net> on Thursday October 07, 2010 @09:32AM (#33823674) Homepage

    I'm more interested to know if others think it's less of a living being.

    "It is still a challenge for scientists and philosophers to define life in unequivocal terms" (thanks Wikipedia)

    I think you might be able to describe the test tube full of cells that's "piloting" the robot as alive. It's made of biological cells. Presumably it consumes nutrients.

    Ethically, the most troublesome part is harvesting the cells from a rat foetus (which I suspect not many /. readers would object to.) From then on, it's at something like the level of a worm, if that.

  • Re:Human brains? (Score:4, Informative)

    by RadioElectric ( 1060098 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @10:03AM (#33824010)
    Continuity of the "self" is a very interesting question which was considered by the philosopher John Locke, among many others (I mention Locke here because Lost fans might be reading who hadn't realised the connection).

    I think most people are familiar with The Ship of Theseus [] in some form or another.
  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @10:18AM (#33824240) Homepage

    So there must be messaging back into the rat. So the robot is to some extent controlling the rat brain.

    The rat is fully decoupled from this ... they scraped cells out of the rats brain, and hooked them up to electronics.

    There is absolutely no feedback into the rat. It's not even a rat brain anymore. The rat may well be defunct.

  • Block Diagrams (Score:4, Informative)

    by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @01:21PM (#33826706) Homepage Journal
    It's too bad the article is so scant on details and so full of fanboyism. I would very much like to see the circuit diagrams and control system diagrams for this supposed neural control network. Kevin Warwick, if I remember correctly, has a history of making very bold claims and announcing certain successes that don't quite live up to his descriptions when viewed critically...or for that matter when viewed at all. Supposedly, he is using a feedback control system involving these neural cells to force some kind of output. I'd like to see that control scheme. Are the neurons part of the plant or part of the state estimator? Is he controlling rates, position, accelerations, or some combination therein? Are the state variables (velocity, acceleration, whatever) fed back into the neural network and compared against a predicted or commanded state? He is claiming to have developed a neuron based control system but there are absolutely no details about the control system itself so I am very wary of this claim.

    So far as I know, the only thing a neuron, or batch of neurons, can do is process an electrical signal from one end to another. If that's the case I fail to see how these neurons are controlling anything. I don't see how they could be used to calculate or predict any state at all. If all they are doing is transferring the analog signal from a batch of sensors, and then delivering those signals to a microcontroller or something, then they are not controlling the system at all, they are simply acting as biological wires. If they are rerouting sensory signals to various parts of the circuit based on level of input, that would be something worth noting, but I am not sure how a batch of neurons could do that. Furthermore, Rodney Brookes was able to do pretty much the same thing with transistor sets and analog sensors years ago when he developed his robotic bug it's not like such a control scheme hasn't been cooked up before. It would be great to see the details of the work to know what Warwick is actually up to this time, but I have a sneaking suspicion that his neural controller is nothing more than a classic analog or digital controller that uses a batch of neurons to transfer signals in the exact same manner that wires or a transistor bank could do. I want details.

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