RoboRat: Israelis Create Rodent With Robot Brain

By Courtney Hutchison, ABC News Medical Unit

Sep 27, 2011 1:15pm

In the technological journey towards artificial intelligence, Israeli researchers have made the next giant leap: the RoboRat.

Matti Mintz of Tel Aviv University in Israel and his fellow scientists have built a rodent-sized artificial cerebellum that when implanted onto the skull of a rat with brain damage, allows him to function normally again.

The cyborg cerebellum consists of a computer chip that is electrically wired into the rat’s brain with electrodes.  Since the cerebellum is normally responsible for coordinating movement, this chip was programmed to take in sensory information from the body, interpret it, and communicate messages back out to the brain stem and in turn, the rest of the body.

To test  the computer chip brain, scientists conditioned a rat to blink whenever it heard a tone. When the researchers disabled the rat’s cerebellum, however, the rat could no longer coordinate this behavior.  Once the artificial cerebellum was hooked up, the rat went back to blinking at the sound of the beep.

“It’s proof of concept that we can record information from the brain, analyze it in a way similar to the biological network, and return it to the brain,” Mintz, who presented the work this month at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence meeting in Cambridge, UK, told NewScientist.

Though scientists have successfully wired artificial limbs to the brain to restore function, the days of a full-on human cyborg brain implant are far off, researchers say.

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