You have more in common with the little robot shown above than you may think. True, it has wheels, not legs. And the electronic sensors that see objects in its path can't really be called eyes. But the gizmo that coordinates the show is all brain. Neurons grown in a dish receive the robot's sensory input and direct movement in response. It may have the no-frills version, but this small metal robot thinks with a living brain.
The biobrained bot, named Gordon, is the inspiration of a multidisciplinary team at the University of Reading in the UK that are collaborating to learn about memory. "This research is tremendously exciting as, firstly, the biological brain controls its own moving robot body," says Kevin Warwick, University of Reading Head of Cybernetics in the School of Systems Engineering. "And secondly, it will help us to investigate how the brain learns and memorizes its experiences." They hope it will lead to a better understanding of how memory forms and how certain diseases affect the brain, like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
The researchers cultured brain cells and then placed them inside a doughnut-shaped arrangement called a multi-electrode array (MEA). Sixty electrodes festoon the MEA, picking up signals from the brain cells that drive the robot. When Gordon approaches an object, the sensors detect it and send a signal to the brain via the electrode links. The neurons then direct the robot's body to avoid the object. Next the researchers will be attempting to have the Gordon learn and remember experiences as he travels over a familiar route—taking a trip down memory lane, as it were.
—Jessa Forte Netting
University of Reading. Robot With A Biological Brain: New Research Provides Insights Into How The Brain Works. August 14, 2008. http://www.reading.ac.uk/about/newsandevents/releases/PR16530.asp
For Further Study
Cybernetics, Robotics, Neuron, Biologically inspired robotics, Electrode
Related Web Sites:
Cybernetic Intelligence Research Group (CIRG) http://www.reading.ac.uk/cirg/