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RatCar takes to the robo-road

You know the Singularity is near when the merger with the machines becomes a meme:

• A half-robot, half-rat is making a splash on the Internet, thanks to a report on IEEE Spectrum's Automaton blog about the RatCar project. RatCar is a long-running experiment at the University of Tokyo aimed at finding out whether rats can learn to operate a wheeled platform through brain impulses. The effort has been continuing for at least six years, judging from this Japanese-language report, but researchers recently discussed their progress at an IEEE meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The goal is to develop a brain-machine interface for wheelchair patients — and generally speaking, there's been quite an advance in mind-reading machinery over the past few years. But I can't help thinking that these researchers have a more nefarious purpose in mind.

The Robat is not some half-robot, half-bat that's been wired for flight. It's a robot that has acoustic sensors modeled after bat ears. Yale engineering professor Roman Kuc uses Robat — as well as a dolphin robot named "Rodolph" with an ultrasound navigation system — to investigate whether sonar techniques can be adapted for the development of better obstacle avoidance systems. Kuc's work was profiled last month in the Yale Daily News. Eventually, such biomimetic navigation systems could help wheelchairs weave between objects, or help motor vehicles watch out for blind spots.

The word "cyborg" turned 50 years old this year, and to celebrate, writer/coder Tim Maly curated a project called "50 Posts About Cyborgs." Today he recaps the project in a posting on The Atlantic's website. If you want to get your wetware brain buzzing, this is a good place to start. Maly writes: "Fifty years on, we've barely made it off the planet, but there's been a veritable second Cambrian explosion of cybernetic-organisms. Explosives detonated by text message, legs that run on Bluetooth, insects that are spybots, killer planes flown by game controllers, plants that tweet their thirst, buildings with opinions, APIs that direct humans, printers that make car parts, phones that are computers, robots that drive marathons on Mars. ... It is terrifying to find a place in all of this."

If you think you know where we're heading in this RatCar world, share it with the rest of us cyborgs as a comment below.


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