Human Mind Directs Cyborg Rats via Brain-to-Brain Interface

Science breakthrough enables human thoughts to guide rats on complex tasks

Posted Feb 28, 2019

geralt/pixabay
Source: geralt/pixabay

A team of scientists from Harvard Medical School, Boston University, and Korea University, made a breakthrough discovery with their noninvasive brain-to-brain interface (BBI) that enabled a human brain to control a rat’s tail. That was in 2013. Fast-forward to less than six years later, and BBI technology has advanced to the point where human minds can now direct laboratory rats in complex tasks with amazing precision, not just in tail-wagging. According to a recent study published in this month’s Scientific Reports, researchers have developed a brain-to-brain interface that enables a human brain to efficiently guide a rat to navigate in a complex environment with thoughts.

Scientists affiliated with Zhejiang University created a BBI system made of a noninvasive brain-machine interface (BMI) using electroencephalogram (EEG) and a rat implanted with microelectrodes. In the experiment, a human "manipulator" watches a computer screen with live video streaming from cameras aimed at a cyborg rat in a maze.

EEG data from human thoughts go through a wireless channel to a computer where motor intent is decoded and transferred into control instructions. The control parameters are wirelessly sent to provide micro-electric stimuli through the stimulator attached to the rat. According to the paper, their BBI system “integrates control instructions decoded by noninvasive motor imagery with neural feedback, and the instructions are sent back to the rat’s brain by ICMS in real time.”

The first task involved guiding the rat through 16 turns (eight right-turns and eight left turns) in an eight-arm maze (each arm is 12 cm wide by 5 cm high). The turning direction sequence is computer randomized to prevent the rats from memorizing the task.  

The scientists wrote in their paper that their BBI system evaluated two different control models–the thresholding model (TREM) and the gradient model (GRAM)—in order “to provide a more natural and easier process for the manipulator during steering control.”

The complexity of the task was then increased to directing rats on a timed-task on a series of preset navigation tasks that go beyond just left and right turns. The next task involved a more challenging 3D maze that required traversing a tunnel, avoiding pillars, and ascending and descending steps. The human mind controlled six rat cyborgs through ten runs each through the complex maze with an astounding average success rate of 90 percent.

The researchers wrote that their study “demonstrated the feasibility of cultivating an information pathway between a human brain and a rat brain,” and that “our manipulators were able to mind control a rat cyborg to smoothly complete maze navigation tasks.” The scientists state that their findings suggest that “computer-assisted BBI that transmits information between two entities is intriguingly possible.”

Copyright © 2019 Cami Rosso All rights reserved.

References

Yoo, Seung-Schik, Kim, Hyungmin, Filandrianos, Emmanuel, Taghados, Seyed Javid, Park, Shinsuk. “Non-Invasive Brain-to-Brain Interface (BBI): Establishing Functional Links between Two Brains.” Plos One. April 3, 2013.

Anthony, Sebastian. “Harvard creates brain-to-brain interface, allows humans to control other animals with thoughts alone.” ExtremeTech. July 21, 2013.

Zhang, Shaomin, Yuan, Sheng, Huang, Lipeng, Zheng, Xiaoxiang, Wu, Zhaohui, Xu, Kedi, Pan, Gang. “Human Mind Control of Rat Cyborg’s Continuous Locomotion with Wireless Brain-to-Brain Interface.” Scientific Reports. 04 February 2019.