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Rat-Robot Hybrids! Neurons naturally hook up & learn new behaviors based on feedback. They learn to drive robot car around and avoid hitting walls.

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Rat-Robot Hybrids

Scientists took brain cells from rats, cultured them on a 128-electrode array, and allowed the cells to control a simple robot consisting of two wheels with a sonar sensor. The little toy car has no microprocessor of its own--it depends entirely on a rat embryoʼs brain cells to direct its movements toward and away from objects in its path. Electrical impulses from the bot enter the batch of neurons, and responses from the rat brain cells are turned into commands for the device. The cells can form new connections, making the system a true learning machine. The ability of the car to avoid obstacles often shows clear improvement over time, demonstrating how networks of neurons can grant simple learning to the machines.

To start off a rat brain robot, embryonic neurons are separated out and allowed to grow on an electrode array. Within minutes the neurons start to push out tentacles and link up to each other, becoming interconnected dendrites and axons. A dense mesh of about 100,000 neurons can grow within several days. After about a week, Warwick and his collaborators can start to pulse the electrodes under the neural mesh in search of a pathway — that is, when neurons near an active electrode fire, another group of neurons on a different side of the array shows an inclination to fire as well.

Once they have a pathway — the groups fire in tandem at least a third of the time — the University of Reading researchers can use that connection to get the robot to roam around and learn to avoid crashing into walls. They connect the electrode array to the robot using Bluetooth. When the sonar senses itʼs nearing a wall, it stimulates the electrode at one end of the neural pathway, and at first the brain sends back a coherent response only every once in awhile. The robot interprets the response as an instruction to turn its wheels. With time and repetition, the neural pathways become stronger, and the robot runs into the walls less frequently. In effect, the robot works out for itself how to not bash into obstacles.

Amazing Robot Controlled By Rat Brain Continues Progress by Aaron Saenzon, Oct 06, 2010

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