Rat Propulsion Via Brain-machine Interface

Our little red-eyed friend can drive this vehicle around with his mind. WITH HIS MIND, MAN!

This is the product of research into adaptive technologies. The process is pretty invasive, implanting neural electrodes in the motor cortex of the brain. The hope is that some day this will be a safe and reliable prospect for returning mobility to paralysis victims.

We found it interesting that the vehicle was trained to react to the rats’ movements. They were allowed to move around a test space under their own power while brain signals were monitored by the electrodes. Video tracking was used to correlate their movements with those signals, and that data is used to command the motors for what the Japanese researchers are calling RatCar.

We can see the possibilities opening up for a mechanized cockroach v. RatCar free-for-all. Something of a battlebots with a live tilt. But we kid, this is actually quite creepy.

[via Neatorama and PopSci]

78 thoughts on “Rat Propulsion Via Brain-machine Interface

  1. @andrew

    As it reads in the article, “RatCar is a simplified prototype to develop better electrodes, devices, and algorithms for those systems.”

    Also the title of the article:
    “Researchers Using Rat-Robot Hybrid to Design Better Brain Machine Interfaces”

    They are trying to improve the technology that already exists.

  2. @andrew This IS a human brain inside a rat, DUH. Don’t believe me though, just ask Christine O’Donnell. ;-)

    Back on topic, this is creepy and cool at the same time. I’d rather see progressive research like this than some of the ‘normal’ rat testing I see in the labs at our local university.

  3. This freaks me right out! Zombie rat robots on the loose. I am going to have to start work on a “Cat Controlled Robot” as a countermeasure. Of course, no cats will be harmed in the making of said robot.


  4. @wifigod

    Speaking of politicians…

    I would think the president would be very interested in technology like this. If he had a direct digital feed for text into his brain, he wouldn’t need a teleprompter every time he spoke.

    Installation of the electrodes should be no problem, because the inventors clearly have experience working with rats.

  5. If you want to see something that will scar you for life – and I mean as in, “omg what have I seen” kind of scarring, check out some of the Russian head transplant and animal brain control research of the late 1940’s through 1970’s. These films are nothing short of horrific.

    Of course, heart and lung machines are descended from this stuff, but still, having seen the films of puppy heads spliced onto large dogs and the meowing of disembodied cats, can you imagine what the human experiments were like?

    The campaigns to villify the nazi doctors were damning and much made of the evil of experimenting on people who could not consent, and yet the rest of the world continued their own equivalent work – and have continued to do so to this day.

    And now, I want to vote for a quick hackaday article on creating your own GM food products – you know, the world really needs a strain of HPV-preventing tomato, anti-TB dairy products and some sort of birth-control effect corn. We could get this population dramatically down-sized in just a few generations.

    I mean, it’s science! What could possibly go wrong?

  6. From the article:
    “”The vehicle moved forward synchronously with a rat when it was placed inside,” says Fukayama, but he adds that the degree to which the car was being controlled by the rat itself was unclear.”

    “Since the rat would be forcibly moved along with the car, measuring its real intentions became a challenging problem.”

    “Another difficulty was that only a small percentage of the electrodes actually recorded neural activity, and the recorded neurons didn’t necessarily correlate with target movements.”

    Another amateur biofeedback experiment done by a guy who desperately wants tenure. MELS does some decent work, but this is a publicity stunt.

    i think it’s safe to say that once again the sex/porn industry will be driving the technology. I think I’m starting to buy into the whole tree of knowledge argument.

    How did I become a hater? I should stay off HAD.

  7. @Andrew – We can’t cut into a human brain purely for research purposes. The only way we’ve managed to test BCIs in human subjects is by piggybacking along with implants that they were already getting for epilepsy and such.

    We have a lot to learn, and a lot of work to do, but it’s unethical to do most of it with humans yet.

  8. Okay, if we can monitor brain signals without implanting an electrode in the subject’s brain, why can’t we use those same sensors to control a robot remotely? Why does it have to be implanted or even attached to the subject?

  9. Gavin says: “We have a lot to learn, and a lot of work to do, but it’s unethical to do most of it with humans yet.”

    So how much ethical is to do it with rats or other animals?

  10. Patrick: It’s like the difference between reading what’s going on in a microprocessor via the RF emissions or with a JTAG port. Sure, you can tell a little bit of what’s going on in a microprocessor by the RF emissions, and if you’re clever you can even play some crude music with the microprocessor that way — but that’s not even close to the information you can get if you hook up a JTAG port.

  11. – Mom, I’mm be right back. Just need to visit the pet shop.
    – What for? You don’t have any pets.
    – Oh, I need some hamsters for my experiments. Too bad I can’t use those drunkards in the street for ’em… Damn those stupid laws.

  12. “So how much ethical is to do it with rats or other animals?”

    Apparently, very much so. Right or wrong, animal research yields, on an ongoing basis, some considerable insights and breakthroughs. Yes, some times you have straight up skin patch tests and other such things but other times you have some really cutting edge research that can’t really be performed any other way.

    The alternative is to experiment on humans and nobody would argue that is ethical. Since we don’t yet have a supercomputer that can accurately simulate every atom of a human being, we use the next best thing. A mouse or rat or hamster or the like. At least we take general steps to prevent the animals from suffering needlessly, even if most are sacrificed (killed) at the conclusion of the experiment.

    If animal testing gets us closer to a safe and effective method for establishing communication with people suffering from locked in syndrome or gets us closer to curing Parkinson’s or helps a quadriplegic move their limbs again, I am perfectly fine with that and given the pervasiveness of animal testing in science, society at large generally seems to agree.

  13. What we need is a non-invasive sensing method to target minute areas in the brain without actually sticking in wires.

    The problem is that the more accurate measurements you want to make of the brain’s electromagnetic activity, the shorter the wavelength light you have to direct into it, and short wavelength = poor penetration and bad for cells.

    I’m sure it’s been thought of already, but maybe something using the interference patterns of multiple long-wavelength signals could give higher resolution?

  14. imho it’s very, very simple: the rat is not happy to be a borg and, since Rattus norvegicus is pretty smart, but behave like a rat and not like a human, cannot be used for very useful scenarios. I, and lots of other Homo sapiens, would be glad to guinea pig in similar projects and, having the ability to communicate, use tools etc, would be much more interesting.

  15. “Although they had long known that Earth was about to be destroyed, their attempts to communicate this knowledge to humanity were misinterpreted as attempts to jump through hoops for bits of fish. They left the Earth just prior to its destruction, but left humanity one last message, a triple backwards somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the Star Spangled Banner, when, in fact, the message was this: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.” – Adams

  16. I don’t see why every one is so hyped-up about this. Gee every one is fine with the research Nazis did that we’re benefiting from now. Just recently there was an article posted about US Military purposely infecting Guatemala citizens with Syphilis that’s OK right? but experimenting on a rat to help paralyzed people is cruel? GTFO this just makes me angry…. you people need to get a freaking clue…


  17. I’m totally against animal cruelty, but I’m for this. It’s research intended to help mankind. We shouldn’t be held back because people are afraid of making a cloned rat uncomfortable.

  18. This is so awesome! Great work. I think they could solve the problem with not knowing whether the rat wants to do what it is actually doing by training it to a motor task and checking wheter it can still do it after the robot is put on.

  19. @Aero

    I’m with you. I didn’t come here to read about ‘awwww poor little rat’. I bet there probably isn’t a person out that would switch places with the rat. If you can’t test on animals and you can’t find a willing person to test on (especially for high risk, experimental stuff – who would want to sign up a lab rat for a ‘crazy’ procedure that could kill you or destroy portions of your brain), I guess progress will come to a screeching stop for some medical areas.

  20. This is how you can usually tell the typical attention-whore tricks in science from the experiments done as legitimate research.

    A legitimate experiment would be to put a camera or two above the rats, then gather the signals from the neural pathways and synching them with position data.

    Once you have an algorithm that predicts motion, you could run it against the logged data and see how closely it predicts the actions of the rat.

    They could have kept the data from the group and used it to run through the algorithms for tweaking, or used reverse correlations to try and come up with an algorithm.

    Either way, this experiment is basically a poorly
    executed update to the hundreds of existing studies that consist of basically gluing insects and small animals to motors and seeing if they can learn to drive before they’re exterminated.

    I am all for legitimate research. I am all for using rodents and pigs to improve the state of medicine; and yet, I really dislike these stunts.
    you people need to get a freaking clue…

    “What we need is a non-invasive sensing method to target minute areas in the brain without actually sticking in wires.”

    Amen to that! But it’s quite a mess in there. Since the brain wasn’t built with a debugging port (as far as we can see at the moment), all we can is poke it with sticks, metaphorically speaking. It will be a glorious day for science, and maybe less glorious for mankind, when we finally get that sorted out.

    “you people need to get a freaking clue…”
    Good luck with that approach. People have clues. They are unlikely to be your particular clues, which is why they jump to different conclusions.

    People who say this are usually saying “You should see it my way” but seldom bother to make an argument about why “my way” is the correct way.

    Most of these people agree with you – rats are ours to use as we like, especially in betterment of medicine and science. I agree with this statement. However, some people are reacting to the experiment’s design and lack of conclusions more than to rats being tortured and sacrificed.

    “it’s unethical to do most of it with humans yet.”

    Well, more along the lines of being unfundable at the moment due to the “creepiness factor”, but given time I think we can safely say that DARPA or their imaginary number* equivalents will find a way to get some money into this.

    We currently have lots and lots of brain and spine damaged vets in our inventory these days, and many more will be arriving.

    All it takes is a couple of smooth talking and optimistic drug reps turned into research shills to tap those resources. It’ll happen.

    *No, seriously… I don’t think anybody realizes just how big our secret budget for weird science is. It’s really, really big… and I’m for it.

  21. vivisection is not a hack.

    from the Neatorama article:
    “”The vehicle moved forward synchronously with a rat when it was placed inside,” says Fukayama, but he adds that the degree to which the car was being controlled by the rat itself was unclear.

    Since the rat would be forcibly moved along with the car, measuring its real intentions became a challenging problem. Another difficulty was that only a small percentage of the electrodes actually recorded neural activity, and the recorded neurons didn’t necessarily correlate with target movements.”

    I take this to mean: “we really have no idea if the rat is actually controlling this thing or not.”

    this is just absurd.

    even more absurd is the notion that this cruelty is being justified as a step toward a thought controlled wheelchair. an EEG based solution is the logical choice for a human to electronics interface… after all, who would want wires haphazardly jammed into their brains?

    ends do not justify means, folks. animal cruelty is animal cruelty regardless if you are doing it for “research” or any other reason.

    @hack-a-day: you should be ashamed to jump on the interwebs bandwagon of re-posting garbage like this. if you disagree maybe you could do a post on how/why you justify vivisection. i’d like to read that.

  22. Firstly, thanks for a great website – one of my
    favourites – until today’s shocker, anyway…

    The technology here is fascinating, but that does
    not make it right. Apart from being bad science,
    vivisection is extremely cruel whatever the
    excuse and I hate that animals get treated as if
    they were just animated property for people to
    abuse as they please. We are all animals, beings
    in our own right and all should be treated with
    respect and kindness, allowed to enjoy life to
    the full, rats and humans alike.

    Human slavery was (partly) abolished and I hope
    this ethic extends to other animals soon.
    Non-human animals cannot express their wishes to us humans in words, but you and I know they would
    not volunteer for such experiments.

    We are are all guilty of plenty and might is
    seldom right, as the article demonstrates quite
    clearly, so I call on the good folk at HAD to
    withdraw it. Leaving it up won’t undo the
    cruelty behind it, but at least it wouldn’t encourage more of the same. I hate censorship, but this stuff is really sick. Please, please do
    the right thing.

    Thanks for reading my .02’s worth and sorry to
    rant, but I could not just ignore this.

  23. There are countries that have decides to torture and kill people just for a vague “feel save” feeling and prosperity. How many animals do you think were killed during wars or eaten daily?

    I think some people need to get there perspective right. If I could,would I stop such researches? Instantly, after we have stopped killing people and animals and nobody could point out a real benefit comming out of these experiments.

    So no shut up an go eat up your steak… I mean dead meet ;)

  24. Animal cruelty my ass, this BCI is eeg

    ITS NON-INVASIVE, so the meanest thing they did was shaving his head letting him controll a car

    people seem to think nature is some sort of happy paradise for animals, where they can be all cute a fuzzy in peace.

    if the rat had the mind to chooce between a life in the wild or a life cruising a lab course in a convertable, i think the choice would be obvious

    it the taxodermy mouse hak all over again

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