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New 'RatCar' lets rodents 'drive using their thoughts'

By Abdul Nisar

Melbourne, Oct 7 (ANI): Researchers at the University of Tokyo have designed a 'RatCar' - a genuine experiment to see if a rat could control a car using just its brain signals.

The experiment is aimed to make it easier for people with disabilities to drive on their own.

"We wanted to develop a brain-machine interface system aiming for future wheelchairs that paralysed patients can control only with thought," News.com.au quoted Osamu Fukuyama of UT's medical engineering and life science laboratory as saying on IEEE's Spectrum blog.

"RatCar is a simplified prototype to develop better electrodes, devices, and algorithms for those systems," he added.

The rat driver is suspended from a lightweight 'neuro-robotic platform', following which neural electrodes were wired directly to the rat's brains, targeting the motor cortex.

First, the team mapped the brain signals that were being used by the rat to locate itself, by towing the rat around the laboratory while tracking it with a GPS system.

That location information was then correlated with readings from the electrodes to determine which neural signals were being used as the car changed direction and obstacles were negotiated.

The car was then programmed to recognise those neural signals and react accordingly.

Results showed that six out of eight rats used in the study appeared to be able to 'drive' the car without their limbs touching the ground but more research is required to see if they could 'steer' the car.

Prof Fukayama said the team's next step was to find ways of better recording the rats' brain waves and actual physical exertions while trying to move the car. (ANI)

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