Researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology created steerable cyborg mice, and holy hell is this experiment giving me the creeps.
The researchers hacked the parts of the mice’s brains that crave and chase objects by stimulating it with a fiber optic thread. This process, called optogenetics, turns neurons on and off with bursts of light. Turning the light on made the mouse crave a ball that was hanging in front of its face. The researchers were able to make the mouse walk by pointing the ball in a particular direction and stimulating the object-craving part of its brain.
The researchers tested the robo-mouse by dropping it into a maze filled with distractions, including a female mouse, food, rough terrain, and a narrow bridge. Without the light stimulation, it meandered. With the light stimulation, and a human steering the way with the ball, the mouse cut a direct path to the end of the maze.
The researchers’ work was published in the March issue of Nature Neuroscience.
They note in their study that this work could advance our understanding of some neurological disorders in human, but in a more direct application, the researchers told IEEE Spectrum that we could theoretically use “cyborg animals to map disaster zones and aid in search-and-rescue operations,” sniff landmines, and even remote-control bird-drones for the military. Hackable animals can conquer terrains that rigid robots can’t, after all. “Animals are naturally able to live and move through complex environments and, of course, do not need batteries,” one of the researchers on this study, biologist Daesoo Kim, told IEEE Spectrum.