A robot using biological brain matter from rodents to control its movements is helping researchers learn more about human neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, according to University of Reading researchers in the U.K.
The robot represents a multidisciplinary effort within the University of Reading, whose team includes Kevin Warwick, head of Cybernetics in the School of Systems Engineering, and Ben Whalley, pharmacist and professor in the School of Pharmacy.
The neuron culture being used to control the robot operates from what is essentially a sophisticated, temperature-controlled Petri dish with electrodes called a multi electrode array (MEA).
The MEA, in which the delicate brain matter is kept in an incubated environment and fed, consists of 60 electrodes. After about one to two weeks of growth, the brain matter is mature enough to start learning and use the MEA to communicate with the robot. The MEA both stimulates the brain matter by sending electrical signals to it and responds to the electrical impulses sent out by the cultured neurons.
"We feed them every couple of days, a pink liquid with nutrients not too dissimilar to what the Olympians might drink for energy," Warwick said in a phone interview. "It keeps the neurons alive and allows them to grow. Within 24 hours they make connections. Within a week there is a brain-like activity. If you stimulate one electrode you get spontaneous firing. We then use that basic operation by linking it up to the robot body."
The electrical output from the brain received by the MEA is transferred to the robot via ultrasonic sonar. The sonar signal causes the robot's wheels to move forward, left, or right, depending on the signal. In return, the brain is sent signals to stimulate it when it nears an object in the hopes that it will respond to avoid colliding with it.… Read more