Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Here come the Ratbots


A ratbot takes the pleasure line.
© S. Talwar et al.

Instinct overrides desire at a dangerous height.
© S. Talwar et al.

Desire drives remote-controlled rodents.

Remote-controlled rats could soon be detecting earthquake survivors or leading bomb-disposal teams to buried land mines.

Signals from a laptop up to 500 metres away make the rats run, climb, jump and even cross brightly lit open spaces, contrary to their instincts. The rodents carry a backpack containing a radio receiver and a power source that transmits the signals into their brains through electrical probes the breadth of a hair.

"They work for pleasure," says Sanjiv Talwar, the bioengineer at the State University of New York who led the research team. One electrode stimulates the rat’s medial forebrain bundle, or MFB, the ’feelgood’ centre of the mammalian brain. "The rat feels nirvana," Talwar says.

Two more electrodes stimulate the brain region that normally processes signals from the rat’s left and right whiskers.

Now the team hopes to work out how to record nerve impulses from a rat’s nose when it detects an odour such as TNT or the human body. Then ’ratbots’ equipped with satellite positioning tags could be used as smart sensors. The research arm of the US defence department is funding the work.

But the research has as much potential in the emerging field of neuroprosthetics according to learning and memory expert Samuel Deadwyler of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Artificial stimulation of brain regions could bypass damaged nerves that once controlled muscles in paralysed people. "This approach could restore those linkages," says Deadwyler.

Learning for pleasure

Talwar’s team train the wired-up rats to turn left or right in a maze according to the artificial whisker stimuli. A jolt to the MFB rewards the rats for correct behaviour. After a week’s training the rats turn on cue without reward.

Thereafter frequent pleasure pulses motivate trained rats to navigate through virtually any environment. Extra pulses spur them on to challenges like climbing or jumping.

There is a limit to what the animals can be made to do: instinct tempers their eagerness for reward. For example, even continuous MFB stimulation cannot make a rat jump from a dangerous height.

Manipulating animal’s minds, especially for dangerous missions, raises ethical questions. "Debate is certainly needed," admits Talwar. But he points out that the rats live as long as normal, and when not wearing mind-altering backpacks they are just like any other rats. "They’re not zombies, they work with their instincts," he says.

In a way, ratbots are an extension of classical behavioural experiments in which animals learn to perform tasks in return for food, say. It’s just that the reward for leaning, as far as a ratbot is concerned, comes from within. This virtual learning could make ratbots a new model for studying animal behaviour.


  1. Talwar, S. K. et al. Rat navigation guided by remote control.. Nature, 417, 37 - 38, (2002).

TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service

More articles from Interdisciplinary Research:

nachricht Lego-like wall produces acoustic holograms
17.10.2016 | Duke University

nachricht New evidence on terrestrial and oceanic responses to climate change over last millennium
11.10.2016 | University of Granada

All articles from Interdisciplinary Research >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

First results of NSTX-U research operations

26.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

UCI and NASA document accelerated glacier melting in West Antarctica

26.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>