Compiled by Stuart Biggs
Scientists exercise mind control over rodents
Researchers in the United States are giving new meaning to the term desert rats. Funded by the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, scientists from two universities have developed a method of remote-controlling live rats that could eventually be deployed for spying on enemy locations or sniffing out explosives for the US military. Using a series of brain implants and wireless technology, researchers are able to steer the rodents over an obstacle course or instruct them to zero in on a particular odour. The system works using sensors attached to the medial forebrain bundle - the area of the brain associated with reward - and the somatosensory cortical area, which is linked to the left and right whiskers. The researchers say it should eventually be possible to train the rats to locate explosives or drugs. Experiments showed that training rats to locate objects through direct electrode stimulation was more effective than the traditional method of using food.
concussion victims no longer counting fingers
Concussions are not usually life threatening, unless sufferers receive a further blow to the head. In worst case scenarios, the second blow can lead to second impact syndrome, which has a mortality rate of up to 50 per cent. For high-risk individuals such as American football players, diagnosis of the original concussion can be a matter of life or death, so scientists at the Georgia Tech and Emory University have developed a headset to detect brain injuries on location. Nicknamed DETECT, the device includes software applications, a portable computer and an LCD display which runs a series of tests designed to track reaction times, memory and other functions that could indicate brain injuries. One test includes a series of coloured and textured shapes and a variety of voice instructions. Researchers say DETECT may have other potential applications, including assessment of cognitive impairment related to Alzheimer's disease or drug use. The device is expected to be commercially available in three to five years.
robots act as a team and follow the leader
Scientists in Ottawa claim to have developed a way to make robots think as a team rather than individually. A study found the robots were able to elect a leader to make decisions for the group and co-ordinate their actions with other robots in the same way ants or bees collaborate in the insect world. Researchers said the robots could have a variety of military and civilian uses, from problem solving to investigating the scenes of terrorist attacks and nuclear spills or aiding deep-sea construction. Not all the robots in the group can make decisions, however. The system works by first allowing the robots to elect a leader, which makes decisions at 'choke' points. If the leader falls by the wayside, another robot is elected to take its place.