This Georgia Institute of Technology news release tells us how U.S. and Australian researchers have "created what they call a new class of creative beings, 'the semi-living artist' -- a picture-drawing robot in Perth, Australia whose movements are controlled by the brain signals of cultured rat cells in Atlanta."
Gripping three colored markers positioned above a white canvas, the robotic drawing arm operates based on the neural activity of a few thousand rat neurons placed in a special petri dish that keeps the cells alive. The dish, a Multi-Electrode Array (MEA), is instrumented with 60 two-way electrodes for communication between the neurons and external electronics. The neural signals are recorded and sent to a computer that translates neural activity into robotic movement.
Here is how the robotic drawing arm operates based on the neural activity of a few thousand rat neurons.
The network of brain cells, located in Professor Steve Potter's lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and the mechanical arm, located in the lab of Guy Ben-Ary at the University of Western Australia in Perth, interact in real-time through a data exchange system via an Internet connection between the robot and the brain cells.
And while the robot's drawings won't put any artists out of business (picture the imaginative scribbling of a three-year-old), the semi-living artist's work has a deeper significance. The team hopes to bridge the gap between biological and artificial systems to produce a machine capable of matching the intelligence of even the simplest organism.
Here is a picture drawn by the 'semi-living artist.'
And where this research will lead?
Central to the experiments is Potter's belief that over time the teams will be able to establish a cultured in vitro network system that learns like the living brains in people and animals do. To achieve that, the information from the robot's sensors is sent back through the system to the cultured network of cells in the form of electrical stimuli. By closing the loop, the group hopes the robot will learn something about itself and its environment.
"I hope that this merging of art and science will get the artists thinking about our science, and the scientists thinking about what is art and what is the minimum needed to make a creative entity," Potter said. "On the science side, I hope that we can look at the drawings it makes and see some evidence of learning. Then we can scrutinize the cultured network under the microscope to help understand the learning process at the cellular level."
For more information about Potter's works, you can read "A Hybrot, the Rat-Brained Robot" or "Researchers use lab cultures to control robotic device."
Source: Georgia Institute Of Technology, through Science Daily, July 9, 2003
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