ROBOT BRAIN WINS RAT RACE

Robot controlled by brain 'grown in a dish' beats live rodent in problem solving exercise

Giving the term ‘lab rat’ a new meaning, scientists have successfully cultured rat brain neurons onto a robotic controller. But that was four years ago. Now their advanced cyborg rodent is winning against its biological brethren in fairly complex tasks.

The original rat-brain robot was little more than a toy; a simple wheeled device that had one mission: to avoid obstacles in its path using optical sensors.

But the astounding fact was this robot had no micro-processor. It was wirelessly controlled by a cluster of cultured neurons in a bell jar.

Craig Venter ushered in a new era for biotech, when his team successfully created the first ‘artificial life-form’ in 2010. This proved to be critical for cyborg studies, as genetic attributes could now be designed, chemically produced, and inserted into living cells.

Today scientists are routinely producing super-rat brains, with advanced learning capacity.

The neurons bond easily with electronic nanowires, and various components like memory or processors can be ‘grown’ on demand.

The big obstacle to full commercial use is the fragility of these cyborg brains – they can’t survive outside laboratory conditions. But researchers have proved the prowess of the robo-rat by pitting it against a live rat in an obstacle course.

While the real rodent had to learn to find the food reward, it seems the cyborg simply computed the most efficient path through the maze, and easily won the rat race.

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