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 Start of work for the world's largest electric truck
20.04.2018 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

nachricht Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo
19.03.2018 | Universität Basel

All articles from Interdisciplinary Research >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

Im Focus: Like a wedge in a hinge

Researchers lay groundwork to tailor drugs for new targets in cancer therapy

In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Magnetic nano-imaging on a table top

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Start of work for the world's largest electric truck

20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research

Atoms may hum a tune from grand cosmic symphony

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>