Researchers at the University of Reading, in England, have developed a robot controlled by a biological “brain.” Hundreds of thousands of rat neurons communicate via a multielectrode array–a dish with over 60 two-way electrodes that transmit signals between neurons and outside electronics–to control the movement of a wheeled robot. When the neurons receive signals that the robot is nearing an object, their output moves the wheels in an attempt to avoid obstacles. The researchers, led by neuroscientists Mark Hammond, Ben Whalley, and cyberneticist Kevin Warwick, suggest that by stimulating the neurons with different signals as the robot returns to a familiar location, they will be able to study how a brain stores data. Their goal is to eventually understand memory formation and disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Researchers have used live neurons to control robots in the past, but those involved a computer between the neurons and robot. One of the more public projects, MEART (multielectrode array art), turned signals from cultured rat neurons at the Georgia Institute of Technology into the movements of a picture-drawing robot at the University of Western Australia.