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Hybrid Robot Uses Rat Brain 254

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the rodent-cyborgs dept.
CowboyRobot writes "After two recent stories of artificial brains used to control rats and one about MIT doing the reverse, NYTimes now has a piece on similar work done at Georgia Tech From the article: "...the layer of rat neurons is grown over an array of electrodes that pick up the neurons' electrical activity. A computer analyzes the activity of the several thousand brain cells in real time to detect spikes produced by neurons firing near an electrode." But this time you can buy one for $3,000."
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Hybrid Robot Uses Rat Brain

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  • karma whore (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 15, 2003 @08:40PM (#5969236)
    Wired to the Brain of a Rat, a Robot Takes On the World
    By ANNE EISENBERG

    The nerve center of a conventional robot is a microprocessor of silicon and metal. But for a robot under development at Georgia Tech, commands are relayed by 2,000 or so cells from a rat's brain.

    A group led by a university researcher has created a part mechanical, part biological robot that operates on the basis of the neural activity of rat brain cells grown in a dish. The neural signals are analyzed by a computer that looks for patterns emitted by the brain cells and then translates those patterns into robotic movement. If the neurons fire a certain way, for example, the robot's right wheel rotates once.

    The leader of the group, Steve M. Potter, a professor in the Laboratory for Neuroengineering at Georgia Tech, calls his creation a Hybrot, short for hybrid robot.

    "It's very much a symbiosis," he said, "a digital computer and a living neural network working together."

    Dr. Potter has been building the system of hardware, software, incubators and rat neurons that constitute the Hybrot since 1993, when he was a postdoctoral student at the California Institute of Technology. He and his group have not only introduced the neurons to the world outside their dish; the team has also closely monitored minute changes that take place in the shape and connections of the neurons as they are stimulated, using techniques like time-lapse photography and laser imaging.

    Dr. Potter hopes that close observation of how brain cells behave as they are exposed to a world of sensation will help researchers understand the way small groups of neurons go about learning. "If the network begins to get better at a job," he said, "we will watch what changed within the network to allow it to do that."

    Dr. Jonathan Wolpaw, laboratory chief and professor of neuroscience at the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health and the State University of New York at Albany, said that Dr. Potter's research could yield a simple system for exploring the capacity of neurons and circuits to change based on incoming activity.

    "These changes could be analogues of what happens in learning," Dr. Wolpaw said. "You are dealing with neurons, the same tissue as in a brain," although in a different setting and with different circuitry. "Some things presumably are in common, for example, the neuron's capacity for plasticity," he said.

    In Dr. Potter's hybrid system, the layer of rat neurons is grown over an array of electrodes that pick up the neurons' electrical activity. A computer analyzes the activity of the several thousand brain cells in real time to detect spikes produced by neurons firing near an electrode.

    A silver three-wheeled model of the robot is commercially available through the Swiss robotics maker K-Team (www.k-team.com) for about $3,000 and is about the size of a hockey puck. It trundles along at a top speed of one meter per second.

    "We assign a direction of movement, say, a step forward, that is automatically triggered by a pattern of spikes," said Thomas DeMarse, a former member of Dr. Potter's group who is an assistant professor in the department of biomedical engineering at the University of Florida. "Twenty of these patterns, for instance, means 20 rotations of the wheel."

    As the robot moves, it functions as a sensory system, delivering feedback to the neurons through the electrodes. For example, Mr. DeMarse said, the robot has sensors for light and feeds electrical signals proportional to the light back to the electrodes. "We return information to the dish on the intensity of light as the robot gets closer and the light gets brighter."

    The researchers monitor the activity of the neurons for new signals and new connections. Dr. Potter said that the feedback mechanism was crucial to the functioning of the neural network. In traditional, isolated cultured networks, he said, in which neurons are not connected to a body, the activity patterns of the neurons are la
    • by joelil (605463) <linuxjoe&gmail,com> on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:03PM (#5969393) Homepage Journal
      Orkin in Very Intrested..... Just think program 3 rats to invade a house. and then just wait for the phone call to get rid of the rats get paid and have the rats move next door.....
      • oh sure until one of these little rat thingies gets a hold of the red pill, then we're all doomed.

      • When I was growing up, my parents called in an exterminator for rats. He reeeealy wanted to sell us the "whole treatment." Several refusals later, he left with a smile. We were trying to get rid of roaches for years after that (and we hadn't had any problem before).
    • Maybe this rat could be used to bell the cat, making life safe for all the leetle meecies?
    • by Tuxinatorium (463682) on Friday May 16, 2003 @12:58AM (#5970296) Homepage
      They invade our kitchens, and we fall back. They steal entire cheeses, and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, and no farther. And I will make the mice-borg pay for what they have done!
    • Re:karma whore (Score:2, Interesting)

      by LauraScudder (670475)
      This guy came to talk at my college a few years ago, and his research is super-cool. At the time he mostly talked about trying to interpret what the cell firing patterns mean when the cells are totally isolated and then began adding single inputs, etc. Its neat cause when you cut them off from input they go into this pattern of waves of firing - they'll be these pauses with one or two random firings and then a all the sudden they'll all fire for a few seconds before dying down. He proposed that this was
    • by Ratphace (667701)

      Guess this will bring an all new meaning to the phrase:
      "Behold! The power of cheese." :)

  • How long until I can buy one of these for myself? Seems like something I'd like broadcast over the internet.
  • Hmmm... (Score:1, Funny)

    by CommieLib (468883)
    I thought this was a story about Al Gore.
  • Correction (Score:5, Informative)

    by avalys (221114) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @08:43PM (#5969251)
    You can buy a copy of the robot base they are using, but it doesn't include the cybernetic rat brain.
    • Re:Correction (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Zurk (37028)
      yep. thats the problem with all this research....everyone who does it doesnt share their results. wheres the models for the function reponse of the rat neurons ? the electrical interface to the cells ? the procesedure and problems encountered ?
      By the time anyone publishes results its years and progress has already moved on. the scientific system should be overhauled methinks. this research is critical and interesting enough that lots of people would be ahppy to contribute significantly if it was easy to obt
      • Re:Correction (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tfoss (203340) on Friday May 16, 2003 @01:47AM (#5970448)
        yep. thats the problem with all this research....everyone who does it doesnt share their results.

        Alright, I call bullshit on this. First off, you are reading about aren't you? They *are* sharing results, and better than that, they are talking to wide circulation general press. This means their research is exposed to an audience greater than the same conference crowd that they run in.

        wheres the models for the function reponse of the rat neurons ? the electrical interface to the cells ? the procesedure and problems encountered ?

        Well for a first approximation, at least look at the guy's web page [gatech.edu]. Notice the section labeled publications & abstracts. Secondly, if you are actually interested on a real level, talk to the guy. I am sure he would love to talk about his research (thats one thing that always tickles scientists, especially academics).

        By the time anyone publishes results its years and progress has already moved on.

        Welcome to manuscript writing, submitting, responding to reviews, re-submitting, publishing. It is slow by its very nature. You can't help it, and actually it's a damn good thing, peer-review is what makes science valid and useful. Without that science becomes nothing but bad journalism (remember cold fusion?).

        the scientific system should be overhauled methinks.

        Ok, what is your suggestion? Until you have an idea how to improve, your bitching is basically meaningless blather.

        this research is critical and interesting enough that lots of people would be ahppy to contribute significantly if it was easy to obtain.

        Ok, first of all while this research is certainly interesting, good basic research, a good foundation for the future, critical i think not. HIV research, cancer research, public safety research, hell, the stuff my lab [slashdot.org] does are all far, far more critical. As for many people contributing significantly, that can work for open source coding. It's quite different doing science. There is a reason you spend an extra 5 years in grad school after college before you really start contributing to these kinds of topics. They are complex and difficult to understand, they require a great level of scientific understanding and experience. And here's the thing, if it was easy to obtain, then it wouldn't require high-level research to examine it.

        a coupla thousand geeks playing with biological-electronic hybrids could do more than a bunch of researchers at a single university or two.

        Yeah, right. You've no clue how complex, difficult, and expensive this kind of research is. Have you ever grown neuronal cells? It's quite a bit harder than raising a bunch of sea monkeys. Even supposing you could package a Pocket Pal Rat-brain-cell-silicon-interface system, you still have to have the understanding of what the hell is actually going on. This isn't your high-school science fair project.

        High-level research is high-level for a reason. Science is hard.

        -Ted

        • And think about how the net is making all this possible. As high-speed increases, we get fast downloads of large volumes of data, streamed video or audio. Seriously, if the scientific community could be completely open about things, such as say AIDS... a global open net discussion might come up with a solution (provided they can adequately filter the trolls).

          Blogs are spawning online science journals... medical information wants to be free
          • And think about how the net is making all this possible. As high-speed increases, we get fast downloads of large volumes of data, streamed video or audio.

            I agree, the net is allowing communication to occur on a much better level than before. Things that were difficult or impossible before are now easy and commonplace. I am not suggesting the net is *bad* for research.

            Seriously, if the scientific community could be completely open about things, such as say AIDS... a global open net discussion might come

        • Brilliant reply. You hit a lot of my pet peeves.

          "Expertise is difficult to acquire. Those who do not have an expertise think it's easy to become and expert, and have no respect for the real experts." -Howard Schechter

          Regardless of my intelligence, I know the kind of research these people are doing is beyond my training.

          Now, if they need a SQL Server Administrator I can do quite a bit to help them. :)
      • by Anonymous Coward
        a coupla thousand geeks playing with biological-electronic hybrids could do more than a bunch of researchers at a single university or two.
        -=[HAXX0R]=-: look dood, my rat runz lunix!
        ******L4M3RZ: w00t
        -=[HAXX0R]=-: oh it died
    • or maybe a daemon's?

      I can't seem to remember if anyone in The Golden Compass trilogy had a penguin for a daemon, though I suspect Linux has been ported the alethiometer platform.
      • having just finished the trilogy - "His Dark Materials [amazon.co.uk]" by Philip Pullman if you want the actual title - i can safely say no, none of the characters had a penguin as a daemon. Notwithstanding that oversight, they are damn fine books.
    • by Alsee (515537)
      doesn't include the cybernetic rat brain.

      You could always use a couple of thousand of your own brain cells :)

      -
  • by aeinome (672135)
    Whatever happened to the stereotypical guniea pigs? I think we should put their brains in robots, and see what happens.
  • This will be very useful in my plan to create a giant killer robot with the brain of a rat.

    Does this remind anyone else of the Simpsons episode where they go to Itchy and Scratchy Land?

  • Artificial retina (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BWJones (18351) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @08:49PM (#5969286) Homepage Journal
    If you could create a multi-laminar structure, this setup might be ideal for an artificial retina. Currently, the bionic retinas being used are nowhere near as sensitive as they need to be to create any useful phototransduction, even if the neural retinal substrate underneath remained intact (which it does not). A multilaminar device could sandwich photosensitive elements combined with neural substrates that would function as the neural interface to the output of the retina, the remaining ganglion cells.

    • by .com b4 .storm (581701) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @10:43PM (#5969785)
      The only word I understood in that whole thing was "sandwich." :) Mmmm Subway...
    • What they didn't tell you was they also hooked up an artificial speech generator. What did the rat say?

    • That's a really good idea. Macular degeneration and glucoma rob people of their sight all the time. if you could regrow the retina on an engineered substrate you could give them better eyes than they were born with. Tally Isham is coming.
    • Re:Artificial retina (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Keighvin (166133)
      I recently read an article where a pair of scientists are now working on 3D printing techniques using living cells as their ink on a temperature sensitive material that easily melts away afterward, allowing them to create more potentially more complex shapes of tissue samples. Integration of electronic components at a building stage like this would be earily simple (relatively speaking).
  • by showmeshowyoukikoman (659208) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @08:51PM (#5969297)
    I think rats can resist extreme heat. What about using this rat brain to control the blob of iron we are sending to the middle of the earth? That was an interesting headline to be sure. As is this one.

    Who knew they were transplanting rat brains into aibo robot dogs!

    Back in the day, we used to talk about robots. But for us, it was always a frightening thing. Then saturday night live did a commercial about robots stealing our medicine! Believe you me, THAT had me scared for a while! I know it was satire, but it's not hard to imagine robots living off the powerful medicines we old people use!

    • I know it was satire, but it's not hard to imagine robots living off the powerful medicines we old people use!

      Oh no! You missed the warning at the end, that people denying the existence of robots may themselves be robots. They've been lying to us, time to ruuuuunnn!
  • by Coelacanth (323321) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @08:51PM (#5969299)
    Not that this isn't cool and all, but:

    I don't want to be around when this thing becomes aware enough to take retribution for countless generations of lab rat torture! Someone will stumble into the lab and find a scientist's brain wired into a speak-n-spell, with a rat-bot-shaped hole in the wall and a trail of cheese crumbs...
    • Imagine a Beowulf cluster of THOSE!
      Armed by military lasers and automatic guns.
    • Someone will stumble into the lab and find a scientist's brain wired into a speak-n-spell, with a rat-bot-shaped hole in the wall and a trail of cheese crumbs...

      Or how about a "rabbot" shaped hole in the wall of a lab? This post reeks of a ripoff of the pilot episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

  • by Metallic Matty (579124) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @08:51PM (#5969304)
    "Here's another one: 'More brains, and bring back Hawaiian Fridays'"

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/view.php3?date=2002-05 -03&res=l [penny-arcade.com]
  • how soon... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    until it can be a slashdot moderator?

    I think it'd be perfect (aka simple minded).

  • Some find a pied piper. Should cause absolute mayhem in the lab as all the robots take off out the door simultaneously.
  • Shodan is it??

  • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday May 15, 2003 @08:55PM (#5969332) Journal
    You remember good old Care Dog, from Care-a-Lot town? If not, take a look at Care Dog meets Pee Bear [subgenius.com] over at the Curch of the Subgenius.

    Specifically, the part at the end:

    When his body finally died, they used a new machine which could keep his brain alive indefinitely, perhaps even forever. It was hailed as a tremendous medical breakthrough, but Care Dog didn't know he was famous -- for he could neither hear nor see nor smell nor feel, but could only hurt.
  • This is odd (Score:2, Interesting)

    This rat-to-robot or robot-to-rat research thing is strange. Two things spring to mind :

    - Isn't this rat brain interfacing business just a clever way of saying "ahem, moving right along" after decades of general-purpose AI research failure ?

    - What the hell do these people target rats that much ? don't mice do the trick too ? or cats or dogs ? Some years ago, bio-computer interfacing experiments were conducted with squids, because they have very large neurons that are easy to work with : have squids compla
    • Re:This is odd (Score:2, Insightful)

      by LemurShop (585831)
      WHAT? CATS AND DOGS? not the cute puppies and the sweet fluffie kitties! Rats are really ugly and icky, you just go ahead son, but not those cute animals that can do silly little human things with their hands oh my. You sir are a monster! An inhuman freak with no respect to cute animals that look nice on peoples houses, uh, i mean nature, and all of god's animals. yeeeeah thats exactly what i mean. Yes, this is off topic. But i might as well vent a little.
    • Re:This is odd (Score:5, Informative)

      by BWJones (18351) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:09PM (#5969425) Homepage Journal
      What the hell do these people target rats that much ? don't mice do the trick too ?

      Rats have much larger brains and visual pathways than do mice, so surgery and implants of bionic and biological devices is spatially easier. The advantage that mice have right now is the genetic resources and databases that currently are not available to the same extent as for rats.

    • Why rats?
      I suppose rats are seen as disposable.
      With the current world situation (Iraq, Palestine, Tibet, Cuba ......) does this really surprise you?
      Rats don't conjure up as much emotion as squids - squids have a kinda unique, rare quality about them.

      I assume the researchers would not approve of using their children's brains in their experiments. According to science and capitalism, the right to life and freedom from torture is directly proportional to the intelligence and wealth of the individual.
  • NyTimes, Eh (Score:3, Funny)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @08:59PM (#5969359) Homepage
    Seems fitting that NYTimes ran a story on this. How long before we start to see these things in NYC subway tunnels?
  • In Terminator 2 , which at the time seemed a fiction only story, its the cyberdyne chip which enables people to create these robots. 2 Robots (terminator's) fly back in time to get things straight. the good one wants to destroy the cyberdyne chip and the evil one wants to prevent that.

    Now we have a rat's brain doing the cyberdyne chip part. Well we all know what a rat behaves like. the cyberdyne chip inside Arnold Schwarzenegger was at least able to say 'Hasta la Vista'. When the cyberdyne chip and its f

    • Actually, there is a book over in Baen's [baen.com] free (as in beer) online library of some of their titles that has these (Bats, Rats, and Vats - I forget the author). Modified bats as well. Pretty good read, as is a lot of other stuff on that site, including some very "known" authors.
    • Well my opinion is to put this crazy stuff on hold. Imagine a rat controlling heavy armed robots. This is for normal sane people a no-go.


      After a scenario like that, I don't think your intended audience need worry about their sanity.
  • by N2H4 (655009) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:01PM (#5969375)
    I will wait until i can purchase a ratbrain pci card before I jump on the bandwagon. Imagine the image recognition possibilites :)
  • Strong Sad (Score:3, Funny)

    by Luigi30 (656867) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:03PM (#5969386)
    "And then the old man's kids came. The robot remembered them and began to cry. But the tears short circuited the robot and he died and fell onto the kids. And none of them lived..." Hope that doesn't happen!
  • One question... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tidal Flame (658452) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:03PM (#5969388) Homepage
    Does the rat wonder why the f--k it has a robotic body?
    • Does the rat wonder why the f--k it has a robotic body?

      Probably not, as it will be used to the mechanism. We all wondered about our human bodies some time after we were born. And frankly, even many grownups aren't comfortable with their bodies.

    • Does the rat wonder why the f--k it has a robotic body?

      No.

  • Living tissue (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:05PM (#5969401)
    How do they keep the nerve cells alive? Are they actually fed, oxygenated, and protected from infection?
    • I was thinking that they could give the cells a shot of endorphins when the light reached a certain intensity for positive reinforcement. teach the cells to actual seek the light.
    • Re:Living tissue (Score:4, Informative)

      by wolfneuralnet (642197) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @11:34PM (#5969974)
      Yes - the cells live in an incubator and are fed calf-serum enriched media. The incubator has enough O2 in it that the cells get oxygen through the media. The electrodes are on the bottom of the dish. It is also nowhere near anything close to working.
  • I hope (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 15, 2003 @09:10PM (#5969432)
    They are only using female rats for this experiment. If they use male rats the report would probably look something like

    Monday morning
    Robot tried too shag other robots

    Monday afternoon
    Robot refused to move from candy vending machine

    Monday evening
    Robot tried too shag other robots

    Tuesday morning
    Robot tried too shag other robots ....
    • Re:I hope (Score:3, Funny)

      by Alsee (515537)
      And if they use female rats the report would probably look something like

      Monday morning
      Robot behaved in a random and irrational manner

      Monday afternoon
      Robot behaved in a random and irrational manner

      Monday evening
      Robot behaved in a random and irrational manner

      Tuesday morning
      Robot behaved in a random and irrational manner

      -
    • No, didn't you read? They don't know what the spikes actually correlate too. So for all we know, every time it tries to jack off, it's really taking a step.
  • Sprinkled right through Cordwainer Smith's [cordwainer-smith.com] short stories written in the 1960s are altered animals and bio-computers. In particular one of his stories (I wish I could remember which one - "Think Blue, Count Two"?) mentions a computer made of "laminated mouse brain". Few things seem to happen today that weren't anticipated earlier by at least one sci-fi writer...
  • If you are looking for more information or a new perspective, check out the actual news release by Georgia Tech.

    Georgia Tech Researchers Use Lab Cultures to Control Robotic Device [gatech.edu]

    Go Yellow Jackets!
  • No distatesful GWB jokes here, please - he got almost half of the votes.
  • by scrod (136965)
    We must destroy the Daleks before it's too late!
  • Hybrid Robot Uses Rat Brain

    Oh my sweet love of god. I haven't read the story and that scares the shit out of me! :)
  • It should read:

    Rat Brain Uses Hybrid Robot

  • For anyone that's interested, Cordwainer Smith [cordwainersmith.com] wrote about this stuff back in the '60s.
  • by InterruptDescriptorT (531083) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @10:12PM (#5969638) Homepage
    At least we'll never run out of politicians now. :-)
  • Brain-Computer Interfaces like these are the first babysteps on the road to true Intelligence Amplication. Technically, Google is IA too, but it's external to your brain, has high latency, etc., but BCI enables much faster communication.

    Quite a few people are convinced that IA will "win" out over pure AI (in the race to Singularity [caltech.edu]) simply because we already have millions of years of evolution to bootstrap from, instead of waiting for enough computing capacity for seed-AI to grow into.

    --

  • Dreams of God and Men by William Thomas Quick The device is called a "Meatbox", a computer made of neural material.
  • Harry Harrison in the house. Props to the peeps. I'm outtie.

  • by wolfneuralnet (642197) on Thursday May 15, 2003 @11:48PM (#5970029)
    I have seen this guy give a talk every year for 5 years. He always says the same thing "we are close to observing something here." The truth is that no one has a clue whether he will ever see anything in these cultures that is meaningful. These are dissociated cells that are living in a culture dish. The laminar structure that the hippocampus has is destroyed in this process. It would be like throwing a bunch of wires together and hoping to come up with a few logic gates. It is all hype right now. The neurons are not "controlling" the robot at all - the neurons have yet to show any organized activity. Even if they did - would you know what it meant??? I would be very surprised if this ever worked in its current incarnation...
  • Frankenrat. Wonderful.
  • NOW I understand why the scientists have been prodding and poking my noggin lately

    Rat
  • For more information about the hybrot, you can read A Hybrot, the Rat-Brained Robot [weblogs.com] or Researchers use lab cultures to control robotic device [weblogs.com]
  • How long before they can put a cat's brain in a female android body?
  • ...Beowulf clusters of cheese :)

  • Am I the only one who can't help thinking about the Rat Things in Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash" when reading this?

    I'd watch out real close when near one of those...before you know it, there'll be UberRats that bite :P
  • "Not Rodent!!! Its Rodant."

    obscure reference to Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe

    www.zbs.org

    .

    .

    I don't know HTML!

  • Fit it with a hearing and the ability to make human sounds to see if it can learn to speak. I wonder what it would say? Doubt it would be to gratefull...
  • The Rat built machine. And for awhile, it was good...

    Wait a minute! "rat built machine"? That doesn't sound right. Somebody check the script!

  • Eel cyborgs (Score:3, Informative)

    by tomzyk (158497) on Friday May 16, 2003 @09:04AM (#5971705) Journal
    This reminds me of previous [slashdot.org] posts [slashdot.org] of similar experiments involving eel and lamprey brains. So, this doesn't exactly seem like anything new. (Those other articles were from 2000 and 2001!) So it just seems like they used a rat brain instead of an eel or lamprey brain. Even having the "light sensor attraction" thing was done with the lampreys.
  • Now Slashdot will be hearing from the Church of Scientology, because /. used the phrase "rat brain" in a headline.

How many QA engineers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? 3: 1 to screw it in and 2 to say "I told you so" when it doesn't work.

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