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Beware the Unstoppable Cyborg Turtle

Run! Or walk. Or, you know, whatever. No rush.

2 min read
Beware the Unstoppable Cyborg Turtle

We've turned insects into cyborgs using nerve stimulation, and that's pretty cool. But insects aren't scary. You know what's scary? Turtles. Turtles are scary. Researchers at KAIST in South Korea have managed to hack a live turtle, adding a noninvasive steering system that they've successfully used to get the animal to follow an arbitrary winding path. Yes, this means that we have cyborg turtles now. Everybody very slowly panic.

The concept here is so absurdly simple that I can't believe we all don't have remote control pets already: the turtles (they're red-eared sliders) get an attachment to their shells consisting of a half-cylinder that can be remotely rotated with a servo. By rotating the half-cylinder around to present the turtle with what looks like an obstacle on one side or another, the turtle can be encouraged to move towards whatever direction appears to be obstacle-free. And it totally works:

This turtle has not been conditioned or trained in any way; the cybernetic control system is just tapping right into the turtle's innate instinctive behavior of obstacle avoidance, allowing voluntary control of the turtle. The word "voluntary" means that the turtle isn't being forced to go in any particular direction: it's just deciding to head where it doesn't see any obstacles.

So, er, what's so great about turtles? Well, they can move around in land and water, and they're powered entirely by whatever plants happen to be around, which is more than can be said for any robot currently in existence. As the researchers put it: "the system is suitable for application in tasks traditionally carried out by mobile robots, such as surveillance and reconnaissance, exploration and navigation, as well as other missions dangerous for humans." The current hardware is a little bit clunky, but it's not hard to imagine that eventually, the turtles could end up with (say) a pair of fancy LCD sunglasses that can duplicate the appearance of obstacles to achieve the same effect. And there's potential for using this same method on more than turtles:

In future works, we will study controlled behavior in more detail and also apply this framework to other animals that have excellent vision. Hawks, cats, lizards and carp are good candidates. They are also big and strong enough to carry larger devices. Through our on-going research, we already found that the same framework can be employed to control fish.

This is how it begins. First turtles. Then fish. Then, THE WORLD!

You can find the entire paper available for free over on PLOS One.

Via [ Discover ]

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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