Well this is unusual. Behold the Magic Flute of Rat Mind Control, and as a project it is all about altering the response to the instrument, rather than being about hacking the musical instrument itself. It’s [Kurt White]’s entry to the Musical Instrument Challenge portion of The Hackaday Prize, and it’s as intriguing as it is different.
[Kurt] has created a portable, internet-connected, automated food dispenser with a live streaming video feed and the ability to play recorded sounds. That device (named Nicodemus) is used as a Skinner Box to train rats — anywhere rats may be found — using operant conditioning to make them expect food when they hear a few bars of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man played on a small recorder (which is a type of flute.)
In short, the flute would allow one to summon hordes of rats as if by magic, because they have been trained by Nicodemus to associate Iron Man with food.
Many of the system’s elements are informed by the results of research into sound preference in rats, as well as their ability to discriminate between different melodies, so long as the right frequencies are present. The summoning part is all about science, but what about how to protect oneself from the hordes of hungry rodents who arrive with sharp teeth and high expectations of being fed? According to [Kurt], that’s where the magic comes in. He seems very certain that a ritual to convert a wooden recorder into a magic flute is all the protection one would need.
Embedded below is something I’m comfortable calling the strangest use case video we’ve ever seen. Well, we think it’s a dramatized use case. Perhaps it’s more correctly a mood piece or motivational assist. Outsider Art? You decide.
The image of the crackpot inventor, disheveled, disorganized, and surrounded by the remains of his failures, is an enduring Hollywood trope. While a simple look around one’s shop will probably reveal how such stereotypes get started, the image is largely not a fair characterization of the creative mind and how it works, and does not properly respect those who struggle daily to push the state of the art into uncharted territory.
That said, there are plenty of wacky ideas that have come down the pike, most of which mercifully fade away before attracting undue attention. In times of war, though, the need for new and better ways to blow each other up tends to bring out the really nutty ideas and lower the barrier to revealing them publically, or at least to military officials.
Of all the zany plans that came from the fertile minds on each side of World War II, few seem as out there as a plan to use birds to pilot bombs to their targets. And yet such a plan was not only actively developed, it came from the fertile mind of one of the 20th century’s most brilliant psychologists, and very nearly resulted in a fieldable weapon that would let fly the birds of war.
There’s a harsh truth underlying all robotic research: compared to evolution, we suck at making things move. Nature has a couple billion years of practice making things that can slide, hop, fly, swim and run, so why not leverage those platforms? That’s the idea behind this turtle with a navigation robot strapped to its back.
This reminds us somewhat of an alternative universe sci-fi story by S.M. Stirling called The Sky People. In the story, Venus is teeming with dinosaurs that Terran colonists use as beasts of burden with brain implants that stimulate pleasure centers to control them. While the team led by [Phill Seung-Lee] at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology isn’t likely to get as much work from the red-eared slider turtle as the colonists in the story got from their bionic dinosaurs, there’s still plenty to learn from a setup like this. Using what amounts to a head-up display for the turtle in the form of a strip of LEDs, along with a food dispenser for positive reinforcement, the bionic terrapin is trained to associate food with the flashing LEDs. The LEDs are then used as cues as the turtle navigates between waypoints in a tank. Sadly, the full article is behind a paywall, but the video below gives you a taste of the gripping action.