NCBI ROFL: Phase 1: Build an army of remote-controlled turtles. Phase 2: ? Phase 3: Take over the world!

By ncbi rofl | April 22, 2013 12:00 pm

Photo: flickr/Ollie Crafoord

Do you have tasks that need doing but can’t afford to buy a robot? Look no further! Remote-controlled turtles can do your bidding, from… um … swimming in shallow waters? to … uh … walking really slowly on the land? Look, the point is that these scientists figured out how to make turtles do what they want simply by attaching a movable blinder to the turtle’s shell. This apparatus allows the scientists to control the turtles’ movements by activating their instinct to avoid obstacles (see it in action in the movie clip below). Turtle army!

Remote Guidance of Untrained Turtles by Controlling Voluntary Instinct Behavior

“Recently, several studies have been carried out on the direct control of behavior in insects and other lower animals in order to apply these behaviors to the performance of specialized tasks in an attempt to find more efficient means of carrying out these tasks than artificial intelligence agents. While most of the current methods cause involuntary behavior in animals by electronically stimulating the corresponding brain area or muscle, we show that, in turtles, it is also possible to control certain types of behavior, such as movement trajectory, by evoking an appropriate voluntary instinctive behavior. We have found that causing a particular behavior, such as obstacle avoidance, by providing a specific visual stimulus results in effective control of the turtle’s movement. We propose that this principle may be adapted and expanded into a general framework to control any animal behavior as an alternative to robotic probes.”

Bonus video from the full text!

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Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Bionic insect cyborgs: 90% insect, 10% robot, 100% terrifying.
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Phase 1: Build army of alligators that can run on land. Phase 2: Take over the world!

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  • Elizabeth Hensley

    This is being done to Tortoises, not Turtles. Turtles live primarily in water, Tortoises live primarily on land. However this “invention” might be more useful done with Turtles for exploring underwater caves and structures because so far we’ve no water-bots as tiny as Turtles, nor can any known Land Animals similarly controlled function well underwater. However this is not new. The Father in Swiss Family Robinson beat them to it by developing a device for an Ostrich they had captured that would cover one eye or the other and allow it to be steered so one of his sons could ride it. (Of course really the Author of the story invented the idea.) A Tortoise so haltered could be used to inspect fallen buildings, but a Roach with electrodes could go into much tinier cracks, much quicker and if something happened to the Roach such as the building shifting and crushing it or the bad guys it was sent to spy on swatting it, Folks wouldn’t have to add death-of-Tortoise-sorrow to what is no doubt already a stressful situation. Many People CARE about Turtles and Tortoises! I certainly wouldn’t want to see them put at risk! Would you?


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NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl


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