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Moth-based Robot May Lead to 'Hybrid' Computers

December 10, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A scientist who successfully connected a moth’s brain to a robot predicts that “hybrid” computers running a combination of technology and living organic tissue will be available in 10 to 15 years.

Moth-based robot The robot is guided by the brain and eyes of a moth.
The move to use the moth came after Charles Higgins, an associate professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, estimated the cost of building a computer chip that could proc­ess visual images like a brain can.

Each chip, he said, would likely cost $60,000 to build. “At that price, I thought I was getting lower quality than if I was just accessing the brain of an insect, which costs, well, considerably less,” he added.

The organically guided, 12-inch-tall moth-based robot on wheels may be pushing the technology envelope today, but it’s just the seed of what can be done when combining living tissue with computer components, Higgins said.

“Computers now are ... not good at being flexible or interacting with other users,” he said. “There may be some way to use biological computing to actually make our computers seem more intelligent.”

Higgins noted that he has no plans to “hook up primate brains to a robot.”

“There’s the possibility,” he added, “when you start to tap into brains, for all sorts of evil applications.”

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