Researchers at the University of Western England are working on making programmable robots out of living tissue, prompting the humble slime mold make the jump into the 21st century by getting all cybernetic up in here.

The mold has already proven capable of carrying small objects along during it’s growth process. Professor Andy Adamatzky and his team hope to take these possibilities to the next level, using chemical and light stimuli to control the way the mold grows, essentially programming it to carry objects to a specific point. Eventually, the hope is that they will be able to manipulate the mold, which already completes intricate computing tasks like finding the shortest distance between two points, to not only carry but assemble items.

Adamatzky isn’t the only one who thinks biological systems can help drive the next developments in computing and robotics. A recent episode of the Robots Podcast featured discussions with Charles Higgins, who is attaching the optic systems of dragonflies to improve robotic sensory capability and Steve Potter, who is growing neural circuits – essentially miniature brains in petri dishes – that, when attached to robotic sensors, can give us a better idea of how the same circuits function in the brain.

Advertisements

Between headline grabbing tales of plane crashes, South American coup d’ etats and untimely demises of high profile celebrities, it’s understandable that less sexy stories might fall through the cracks. And if there’s anything less sexy to mainstream media than the super fast translation of neurological messages, I’m hard pressed to think of what it would be.

That said, a couple of stories about doing just that managed to sneak in under the radar this week. And while restoring motion to paralyzed individuals might not be the sort of thing that gets CNN’s engine revving, it’s just the sort of thing that makes my heart go all aflutter. I’m a little weird that way, I guess.

Apparently the BSI-TOYOTA Collaboration Center knows just how to get me of a temper. Researchers there have develeoped a wheelchair controlled by the brainwaves of a subject. The wheelchair, which has been in development since 2007, has a 95% accuracy rate in translating brainwaves into simple directional controls like backward, forward, left and right. Even more impressively, it does so in fractions of a second, courtesy of a groundbreaking method of brain-machine interface that separates pertinent brain signals from the ‘white noise’ of EEG readings to analyze brainwave patterns several times faster than conventional methods.

Between this sort of advanced translation and research at the University of Washington that bypasses damaged nerves completely, the prospect of one day restoring limb function to paralyzed individuals has never been more realistic. And as a happy side effect of the technology, bloggers will one day to post updates just by thinking about them. Take that, my future case of carpal tunnel syndrome!