Japanese scientists have created yet another vaguely horrifying and incredibly interesting contraption with their latest project which puts a rat in control of a mobile suit that is controlled entirely with its brain. The mechanized “rat car” as it’s called is a mobile system designed to allow the rat movement without the use of its limbs. And the next step they are proposing is where it gets even more incredible.
The rat car is a simple device that hooks electrodes directly into the brain of the rat. As the rat thinks in certain directions it simply moves with them. And the next step in the testing is to both develop more interesting uses for the system and integrate it into human life. The next step in cybernetic enhancement may be the creation of half human cyborgs that rely on electrodes reaching their brain to move their limbs. Patients with mobility problems around the world will no doubt be able to benefit immensely from the project and others like it.
The principle is simple, but as the adage goes the application is as complicated as brain surgery. But the operation is actually incredibly simple once the device is attached. Similar technology has already been developed for experimental use through an EEG scan which moves the limbs with some level of accuracy. But the ratcar actually taps into the brain’s tissue itself to ensure no communication gets lost in translation. Those watching the world of cybernetic enhancement may already be remembering the Pentagon’s cybernetically controlled beetles capable of flying into small areas and being recalled. Of course this technology is different as rats are not only far more complex organisms, but the communication is going the other way.
Future models may not only use wheels, but utilize the success of other projects such as Honda’s Big Dog walking robot to allow the rat to attach cybernetic spider-like legs to function instead of the current wheels. And once the technology is translated over into humans, the technology developed behind the Rat Car by the IEEE may eventually allow humans to control wheelchairs and even robotic legs with nothing more than the simple neural interface welded into their brains. While this may seem like a drastic price to pay for some people, there are thousands who may consider the option alone to be an incredible boon. Millions worldwide suffer from paralyzing mobility issues and concerns. The technology offered in this experiment could one day ensure millions will walk again.
But then there is the question of how far the technology could be taken. In the future it’s easy to imagine a demonstration of the technology coming out by outfitting an elderly man with a robotic second skin attached to his brain and then giving him the opportunity to compete against trained athletes to showcase the effectiveness of the new product. So if this is the incredible step we are taking into the future, will neural interfacing with our environment make the entire body one day entirely superfluous?