Brain powered rat-mobile hits the half-robot highway


7 Oct 2010

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Research conducted by scientists at the University of Tokyo (UT) has yielded the RatCar – a wheeled device that moves upon the orders from a rat’s brain.

The aim of the UT research was to prove that animals had the ability to control their limbs with their brain, and in turn control a vehicle, according to IEEE Spectrum.

While RatCar uses sensors embedded directly into the rat’s motor cortex to help a computer control the vehicle, the goal of the RatCar stems from the broader aim to gauge how feasible it would be for paralysed people to control wheelchairs using brain implants.

Brain-machine interface

“We wanted to develop a brain-machine interface system aiming for future wheelchairs that paralysed patients can control only with thought,” Osamu Fukayama, of UT’s medical engineering and life science laboratory, said on IEEE Spectrum.

“RatCar is a simplified prototype to develop better electrodes, devices and algorithms for those systems.”

The car was matched with the brain signals of the rats, with a “tiny neural electrodes implanted in the motor cortex of rat brains” required to generate the connection between driver and vehicle.

This onslaught of robotic rodents could herald a new world for brain-powered wheelchair use or a host of other significant innovations in future, but, for the time being, these rodent mind-reading machines will stay in the lab with their ratty drivers.