Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Here come the Ratbots

02.05.2002


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.

References

  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 New dental implant with built-in reservoir reduces risk of infections
18.01.2017 | KU Leuven

nachricht Many muons: Imaging the underground with help from the cosmos
19.12.2016 | DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

All articles from Interdisciplinary Research >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Scientists spin artificial silk from whey protein

X-ray study throws light on key process for production

A Swedish-German team of researchers has cleared up a key process for the artificial production of silk. With the help of the intense X-rays from DESY's...

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers

24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Choreographing the microRNA-target dance

24.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Spanish scientists create a 3-D bioprinter to print human skin

24.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>