Could this little fellow save lives in an earthquake rescue? In the movie RoboCop, a computer was melded with a human brain to create a part-man-part-machine cyborg. Now scientists in New York have created a real-life RoboRat. A rat has had computer chips integrated into its brain, allowing the machine-mouse to perform seemingly miraculous tasks. For example it can push a lever to get a drink without moving a paw or even a muscle. RoboRat uses its computer implants to manipulate the lever by thought power alone.
The scientists have now created several more RoboRats and they’ve taken the technology much further. They can send signals to the rats’ computer implants using a wireless control, and can steer the rodent as if it were a remote controlled car. When they stimulate its brain one way and the rodent turns right; when its stimulated another way it turns left.
Merging a living mind with a machine may sound like a horrendously cruel creation, but the researchers insist this isn’t the case. Indeed they say they have some of the happiest lab rats around - because of the way they train them. The rats are not being forced to do anything they don’t want to do. They turn left or right when the scientists push the buttons on the remote control because they’ve learnt obeying this command results in the pleasure centre of their brains being stimulated by the computer chip implant. It’s a bizarre twist on the concept of free will.
The researchers haven’t created RoboRat just in the pursuit of pure knowledge. Like RoboCop, RoboRat will eventually have important public duties to perform…they could be sent on a rescue mission into the rubble after an Earthquake or building collapse.
The scientists are currently fitting out some of the rodents with tiny cameras so they can not only control them, but also ‘see through their eyes’. As well as this they’re also being trained to follow human scents, like sniffer dogs.
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