When a couple wants to test their ability to take care of a child before they have one, they usually get a pet. Now you can go a step further and for $80,000, you can get a childlike robot called AstroBoy. Sony is working on a robot that can interact with its “parents,” expressing emotions with words, songs and body language. Or you can get a hybrot that’s smart because its brain is made up of living cells harvested from the brain of a rat.
Steve Potter?s rat-controlled robot is a cylindrical machine the size of a coffee mug. It does its thinking with a network of neurons taken from the brains of rat embryos and placed on an electrode-activated silicon chip. This is the first time living neurons have been used to control a robot.
To build a hybrot, Potter places a drop of solution containing thousands of rat neuron cells onto a silicon chip. The electrical signals that the cells fire at one another are picked up by electrodes which then sends the amplified signal into the computer that powers the hybrot.
The hybrot also sends signals back to the neurons, in a continuous loop. “On the one side, we record activity from the cells and use them to control the motors in the robot, and on the other, we take sensory input from the robot and translate it into stimuli for the cells in the dish,” says Potter. “Basically, we’ve taken these cells in a dish and given them back a body.”
He’s looking for evidence that the neurons are learning new data from the information sent back by the robot, and he’s found that some stimuli does in fact cause changes in the brains cells that last for several days. Potter says, “The ‘brain’ is definitely developing.”
As long as they use rat brain cells, it?s not so scary, but what if they use the cells from human brains?
Scientists haven’t yet explored every mystery, and there are still Seven Experiments That Could Change the World.
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