News regarding more advanced and intelligent robots are not that uncommon, but researchers from Virginia’s Institute of Technology have found an entirely different way of controlling them. They managed to build a robot that is entirely controlled by bacteria.
Though it may sound like something that belongs in the realms of Science-Fiction, a strain of E. Coli, commonly found in the digestive systems of many animals has been successfully used to steer a robotic car.
The idea came after the scientists observed significant changes in the behavior of flies that have consumed probiotics (beneficial bacteria). They theorized that the same changes could be intentionally applied to an artificial system.
The small robot was equipped to detect and respond to visual stimuli: red or green lights. The bacteria was genetically engineered to produce red or green colored fluorescent proteins. In this way it could directly give orders to the robot to whom it was attached to.
A bait consisting mostly of sugar was placed close to it and the bacteria successfully used the lighting system to guide the car closer to it. The bacteria even took the scientists by surprise when it began increasing the speed as it got closer to the bait, similar to how a predator would jump for the prey.
While it may inspire a horror movie or two, the applications of this new technology are very wide. It could greatly help medical researchers understand how bacteria work and how they can be more precisely influenced for our benefit. In the future bacteria could be widely used to fight diseases.
But the main purpose of the study was to find alternative ways of controlling machines. The scientists from Virginia consider their experiment a success in this matter. They believe that in the future their system has a chance to surpass the more traditional forms of robotic AI.
This does little to ease concerns that some people have regarding artificial intelligence that may get too smart. A robot with a biological brain could very well turn against its masters, this time for no other reason than simple hunger. But the research team views their creation as a more human robot, due to the fact that it behaves as a basic living being would.
In theory this should make the robot easier to understand, but this experiment is only the first of many steps. Regardless, it marks a significant advancement in the emerging field of bioengineering.
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