Professor Miguel Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University, in the United States is creating brain interfaces – small devices that can read thoughts. One of his goals is to allow a paralysed person, wearing a robotic exoskeleton, which they will control by their mind, to take the first kick at the Football World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
With the London 2012 Paralympics soon to start, brain-machine interfaces are being explored for equipment that could be used by athletes with disabilities in future competitions. Engineering students at Imperial College London have been developing a brain-controlled bobsleigh.
Researchers from Harvard University in the United States have taken inspiration from the natural world to develop a robot that changes colour like a chameleon. They pump dyes through the robot as it moves over different surfaces, either making it camouflaged, or brightly patterned. The chemicals can also be kept at different temperatures making the robot visible, or invisible, to infrared sensors.
Videogame playing fish
Scientists have found that getting fish to play a video game can tell us a lot about why animals group together for protection. They projected computer generated images of prey onto a screen in front of the predatory bluegill sunfish, and monitored its behaviour. They found that schools of the virtual prey that behaved protectively, schooling together and not venturing far from others, were targeted much less often than other more reckless prey. Using a game type virtual reality environment meant the scientists could test their ideas without other factors influencing the outcome.
Seeing what the mouse sees
The retina at the back of the eye is much more complicated than a camera film, just collecting images that are sent to the brain. There is a high degree of pre-processing happening in the retinal ganglion cells. There are 20 types of these nerve cells in the mammalian eye and they perform tasks like adjusting for eye movement, light levels, directional movement & pattern recognition as well as simple pixel resolution. But two scientists at Harvard University in the US were perplexed at one type of retinal ganglion cell in the mouse retina that didn’t seem to perform any of these tasks. Markus Meister and Josh Sanes, played videos of everyday mouse life to a mouse retina and found that these particular ganglion cells only reacted when they showed a bird of prey flying in the sky. They think this specialization could be the evolutionary adaptation of an alarm response. A pre-conscious, warning of imminent danger.