‘Frankenrobot’ has biological brain

By | August 21, 2008

Meet Gordon, probably the world’s first robot to be controlled exclusively by living brain tissue. Stitched together from cultured rat neurons, Gordon’s primitive grey matter was designed at the University of Reading by scientists who unveiled the neuron-powered machine on Wednesday.Their groundbreaking experiments explore the vanishing boundary between natural and artificial intelligence, and could shed light on the fundamental building blocks of memory and learning, one of the lead researchers said. “The purpose is to figure out how memories are actually stored in a biological brain,” said Kevin Warwick, a professor at the University of Reading and one of the robot’s principle architects. Observing how the nerve cells cohere into a network as they fire off electrical impulses, he said, may also help scientists combat neurodegenerative diseases that attack the brain such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. “If we can understand some of the basics of what is going on in our little model brain, it could have enormous medical spinoffs,” he said. Looking a bit like the garbage-compacting hero of the blockbuster animation “Wall-E,” Gordon has a brain composed of 50,000 to 100,000 active neurons. Once removed from rat fetuses and disentangled from each other with an enzyme bath, the specialized nerve cells are laid out in a nutrient-rich medium across a 5-by-5 inch array of 60 electrodes. – mystery

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