Shea’s Childhood Mad Scientist Dream Comes True!
Prof. Tom Shea's team was awarded a $760,000 grant from the Army Research Labs to teach his mouse brain cultures to operate robots in Holly Yanco’s Robotics Lab in UML’s Computer Science Department.
For several years, the Army has funded Shea and his group to culture embryonic neurons in petri dishes containing “Multi-electrode arrays” in which 64 electrodes embedded in the base interface with MatLab software. Over time, these neurons form synapses and their signals can be recorded. Even better, they can be stimulated via the computer and can learn in much the same manner that they learn in the developing brain. Alternate training with inhibitory and excitatory signals teaches them when to send out their own signals or when to “stand down.” Shea and his colleagues are developing several applications for these neurons and their recorded signal patterns including spinal injury and motor neuron degeneration.
In this new award from the Army, Shea will put his science-fiction brains to work: Holly Yanco’s amazing robots will be set to operate in one of several modes depending upon the signals transmitted by Shea?s brain cultures. Applications will include sending a triggering response to the cultures when an unknown object is detected by a surveillance camera, causing the culture to generate one set of signals, versus sending an inhibitory signal when a known object is detected, causing the culture to cease sending specific signals or to send an alternate signal stream. Should “background” signals cease (e.g., if the neurons die or connection is broken), a warning signal is transmitted. The Army is particularly interested in how Shea’s “real” neuronal networks perform in comparison with the performance of computer-generated artificial neural networks.
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