Researchers Create Robot Driven by Moth's Brain

Nov 19, 2007
Researchers Create Robot Driven by Moth's Brain
Robo-Moth: UA robot driven by moth's brain.

In a notion taken from science fiction afficionados, University of Arizona researchers presented a robot that moves by using the brain impulses of a moth at the 37th annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

Charles M. Higgins, UA associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and doctoral student Timothy Melano presented their findings and outlined the mechanics behind the robot’s movements.

The robot’s motion is guided by a tiny electrode implanted in the moth’s brain, Higgins said, specifically to a single neuron that is responsible for keeping the moth’s vision steady during flight. The neuron transmits electrical signals which are then amplified in the robot's base and through a mathematical formula, a computer translates the signals into action, making the robot move.

The moth is immobilize inside a plastic tube mounted atop the 6-inch-tall wheeled robot. To get the moth to imitate flight, Higgins and his team placed the moth in its apparatus on a circular platform surrounded by a 14-inch-high revolving wall painted with vertical stripes. The moth's neuron reacts to the movement of the stripes and the process begins.

The brain of a moth is about the size of a grain of rice. Although small, “its compact size and simplicity allows for an efficient way to do brain research,” Higgins said.

'The underlying point in the creation of the robo-moth is the notion of advancing neuroscience," he said.

The Society for Neuroscience meets annually to show advances made by scientists who work to study the architecture of the brain and use that knowledge in the design of new machines.

“Combining the study of machines and the mechanics of the human body has led to great advances that have direct health benefits such as the development of the mechanical heart. Unfortunately, we are nowhere as advanced in our study of the brain as we are in the study of the heart,” Higgins added.

“Scientists have reached a frustrating point in understanding the brain - we know how it operates, to an extent but don’t know how to stop brain damage or repair it when it occurs.” Higgins said. But that may change in the future. Higgins has thus far been able to have robo-moth turn left or right but not forward or backward. The longest recorded movement has been 88 seconds.

Higgins' work is funded through grants from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Air Force. Both agencies granted funding to help gain an understanding of human visual operations. Higgins' research is a step toward a future in brain engineering that will help repair damage or replace lost brain functionality.

Source: University of Arizona, By Rebecca Ruiz-McGill

Explore further: Smartphone experiment tracks whether our life story is written in our gut bacteria

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Intel wants a chip implant in your brain

Nov 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Computer chip maker Intel wants to implant a brain-sensing chip directly into the brains of its customers to allow them to operate computers and other devices without moving a muscle.

Recommended for you

Monitoring the rise and fall of the microbiome

6 hours ago

Trillions of bacteria live in each person's digestive tract. Scientists believe that some of these bacteria help digest food and stave off harmful infections, but their role in human health is not well understood.

Antioxidant biomaterial promotes healing

14 hours ago

When a foreign material like a medical device or surgical implant is put inside the human body, the body always responds. According to Northwestern University's Guillermo Ameer, most of the time, that response can be negative ...

Immune response may cause harm in brain injuries, disorders

16 hours ago

Could the body's own immune system play a role in memory impairment and cognitive dysfunction associated with conditions like chronic epilepsy, Alzheimer's dementia and concussions? Cleveland Clinic researchers believe so, ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

NeilFarbstein
4 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2007
The moth-er's of invention!
zbarlici
5 / 5 (1) Nov 19, 2007
thats the best one ive heard in moths, neil. This achievement will allow the japanese to finally develop giant neurogically-controlled battle space robots. I want in.